Thursday, May 23, 2024

Special report: The state of our health

Some serious health statistics show that Westmeath is a county on the edge when it comes to the state of our health.
This week, in a special report, Topic’s Ronan Casey has found that there is almost an admission every day for mental health reasons to Mullingar’s St Loman’s facility. The Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar is currently stuffed to the gills with as many as 32 patients waiting for a bed last week. A major survey has found that there are very worrying levels of respiratory illness in the Lake County with the second highest rate of hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses in the country.
Equally worryingly, over 15% of the population is now classified as obese which health experts fear is leading us to a diabetes timebomb.
The suicide rate in Westmeath is the fifth highest in the country, with health experts saying more needs to be done to mind mental health in the county.
With new facilities set to open in Mullingar in the next 12 months, including a new look A&E facility at Mullingar Regional Hospital and a methadone clinic for almost 200 registered heroin users in the county, now is a good time to look at the state of our health.

‘Worrying levels of respiratory illness’ and children in hospital
by Ronan Casey
Westmeath has the second highest rate of hospital admissions for respiratory illness in the country.
According to figures compiled by the Institute for Public Health, only Sligo has a marginally higher rate of admissions. The illnesses range from serious conditions such as asthma, inter alia, pneumonia, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease right down to the common cold.
The Institute of Public Health, in their Health and Ireland Report, say the admissions point to “worrying levels of respiratory illness.”
The rate of hospital admissions for respiratory illness ranges from 3,000 – 3,250 per 100,000, which is significantly higher than most other counties. The nearest comparable county of Kerry, for example, has 1,500 – 1,750 admission per 100,000.
Another worrying find in the health report was that Westmeath also had the second highest rate of hospital discharges of children per 1,000 people. This could suggest that either more children in Westmeath are being hospitalised than elsewhere in the county, or children are being re-admitted to hospital with greater frequency.
Another figure higher than most counties was the suicide rate, which at 14.6 suicides per 100,000 was the fifth highest in the country, and was well ahead of the national rate of 11.5 per 100,000.
In terms of dietary health, Westmeath also fared poorly, with 15.4% – 15.8% of the population classified as obese.
Between 3.2% and 3.35% of the population were diabetes diagnosed in the past 12 months.
The potential knock-on effect of the high obesity rates, particularly if they are among children, is higher diabetes levels. However, health experts warn that obesity makes you more prone to a whole range of conditions, including heart attack and stroke, high blood pressure and some cancers.
Alcohol use led to a rate of 166 people treated for abuse. The national average was between 60 and 309 per county.
11,303 people from a population of 86,164 were classified as having a disability. In terms of children, 59.3 children per 1,000 of population were classified as being disabled, above the national average of 57.8.
3,607 people in the county (or 4.1% of the population) were providing regular unpaid personal help for a family member or friend with a long-term illness or disability.
Westmeath mothers are more inclined to breastfeed their newborn babies, with 56.6% of infants breastfed in the county. That’s well above the national average.
4.7% of babies are born below 5.5lbs which is classified as the low birth weight which is below the national average of 5.4%.
The infant mortality rate is high, with a death rate of 4.3 per 1,000 births. This is above the national average of 3.5.
A worrying find for the Institute of Public Health was that 186 was the rate of discharges of children from hospital per 1,000. This was the second highest in the country, well above the national average of 133.
The rate of child admissions to psychiatric hospitals per 100,000 was 30.4 which was below the national average of just under 38 per 100,000.
The number of GPs per 100,000 in Westmeath works out at 65 – 70, and the number of people in the county with a medical card was high, ranging between 42.2 – 49.7%.
In terms of cancer, Westmeath was rated as being “middle of the road” with no major statistic above or below the national averages.
Cancers ranged between the 10th highest to the 7th lowest, with a 48.74 per 100,000 of population for lung cancer (10th highest in the country), a 189.63 rate per 100,000 for non-melanoma skin cancer (the 7th highest). a 56.17 incidence rate per 100,000 of breast cancer (the 7th lowest) and a 161.05 incidence rate of prostate cancer (the 10th highest).
Mortality rates for cancer varied
Westmeath had the 5th highest mortality rate for lung cancer at 43.63 per 100,000. It had the 5th highest rate of deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer at 2.15 per 100,000. It also had the 13th lowest mortality rate for breast cancer at 13.14 and the 5th lowest mortality rate for prostate cancer at 33.31 per 100,000.
The figures were gleamed from a variety of sources including census figures, government figures, HSE, National Cancer Registry and more agencies in the year 2011 as they are the latest available, and the findings were published in a special report in the Irish Examiner newspaper at the weekend.

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