Published by the British Medical Association, 26 June 2012
Soaring unemployment rates across Europe caused by economic policies are a ‘public health emergency’, doctors heard at a seminar on health inequalities.
Former BMA president Professor Sir Michael Marmot, author of the Fair Society, Healthy Lives report, told an interactive symposium on social and health inequalities that for every 1 per cent rise in unemployment in Europe there was a 0.8 per cent rise in suicides.
Sir Michael, director of the University College London Institute of Health Equity, in a speech entitled Social Determinants and Health Inequalities: What Can Doctors Do? raised concerns about the health impact of unemployment of up to 50 per cent in Spain, Portugal and Greece and 25 per cent unemployment among youth in the UK.
‘Public health emergency’
Sir Michael said: ‘This is a public health emergency and I would say doctors have a very important role. If you look across Europe at unemployment rates a 1 per cent rise in unemployment in a country is associated with a 0.8 per cent rise in suicides.
‘As a result of economic policy, people are killing themselves – they are killing each other. But the good news is there is a drop in traffic deaths – people can’t afford to drive a car.’
The symposium also heard Irish Medical Organisation president Paul McKeown describe the impact of austerity measures on health.
One measurement of inequality jumped to 35 per cent in 2009/10 compared to around 30 per cent the previous year and the number of households in need increased from 56,000 in 2008 to 98,000 in 2011.
Dr McKeown, a consultant in public health medicine, added that there had been 286 suicides in Ireland in 2010 and some experts were predicting the figure could be as high as 1,000 in 2012