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COVID-19 pandemic underlines need to strengthen resilience of health systems, says OECD

OECD Health at a Glance 2021 says that the mental health impact of the pandemic has been huge, with prevalence of anxiety and depression more than double the levels observed pre-crisis in most countries with available data, most notably in Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States. COVID‑19 has also had a major indirect impact on people not infected with the virus. 

For example, breast cancer screening fell by an average of 5 percentage points in 2020 compared to 2019, across OECD countries with available data. The median number of days on a waiting list increased on average by 58 days for hip replacement, and 88 days for knee replacement in 2020, as compared to 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in health spending across the OECD. Coupled with reductions in economic activity, the average health spending to GDP ratio jumped from 8.8% in 2019 to 9.7% in 2020, across OECD countries with available data. 

Countries severely affected by the pandemic reported unprecedented increases. The United Kingdom estimated an increase from 10.2% in 2019 to 12.8% in 2020, while Slovenia anticipated its share of spending on health rising from 8.5% to more than 10%. 

The pandemic highlights the persistent shortage of health workers stressing the importance of investing more in the years ahead on improving primary care and disease prevention and strengthening the resilience and preparedness of health systems. Indeed, the report says that health spending continues to focus mainly on curative care rather than disease prevention and health promotion, and much more is spent on hospitals than on primary health care. Prior to the pandemic, spending on health amounted to over USD 4 000 per person on average across OECD countries, reaching almost USD 11 000 in the United States. Inpatient and outpatient services make up the bulk of health spending, typically accounting for 60% of all health spending.