Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan is a freelance journalist contributing to health and business publications. He has a BA in physiology and an MSc in science communication. He has been a magazine editor and newspaper columnist, and has written a book about China.

Most Europeans born today will live into their eighties but behind that impressive statistic lie inequalities and ill-health. It’s time we focused on adding life to years instead of years to life. In 1990, life expectancy at birth was 74.1 years in Europe. Today, it’s 80.9. This is a remarkable achievement, by any measure. However, adding to our quantity of life is no guarantee of quality of life. Yes, the chances of surviving cancer, heart attack and stroke are higher than ever, thanks to improved healthcare. The prospects of surviving without disability are less rosy. Startling statistic Here is one of the most shocking statistics I’ve read in a long time: men and women spend 79% and 74% of their lives, respectively, in good health. Or, to put it another way, men live more than a fifth of their lives in bad health while women live more than a quarter of their lives in an unhealthy state. This explains why policymakers are shifting focus to healthy life years . The EU is trying to add two healthy life years – or ‘disability-free life expectancy’ – to our lives by 2020. After all, adding two more years to life is not worth much if they are two extra years of misery. Today in Europe, 50 million people over the age of 65 live with two or more chronic conditions, according to figures published by the EU/OECD . This comes at a profound human cost as well as an estimated economic loss of €115 billion. Another challenge that lies behind the impressive life expectancy figures is inequality. Let’s take gender first: the typical European women lives to around 83 while her male counterpart is lucky if he celebrates his 78 th birthday. Even bigger disparities emerge if we compare Europe’s best-performing health...
Shouldn’t we be rewarded for healthy behaviour rather than repeatedly punished for being ‘bad’? Fat tax and sugar tax, duty on cigarettes and vodka – everyone can think of a ‘sin tax’ they pay from time to time. These are the penalties we pay for making unhealthy choices. The idea of sin taxes has been gaining ground in recent years. The success of price rises on cigarettes and alcohol in curbing consumption is leading governments to consider what other disease-causing products could be taxed out of existence . In Europe, Denmark were the early movers: they introduced a tax on fatty foods in 2011. It applied to meat, dairy products, oils and certain other foods which contained more than 2.3% of saturated fat. The tax ‘worked’ in that it raised revenue and cut consumption of fatty foods by 4% . However, the policy didn’t last long. It was scrapped within 18 months because the government said the tax was too difficult and expensive to collect. Japan is taking a different route . Instead of hitting shoppers in the pocket to reduce the size of their gut, authorities impose fines on employers and local governments who fail to keep waistlines in check. Other countries, including the UK and Ireland have targeted sugary drinks by proposing a ‘soda tax’ to nudge consumers into making healthier choices. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver – a campaigner for healthy eating – hailed the move as a victory for children’s health. He was so happy about the new tax that he did a little dance at the end of a TV interview which was captured by BBC! There’s no doubt that taxes can be used to push people into making ‘better’ choices. But what ever happened to incentives for positive change? GPs in the UK get bonuses...
As ‘thinking season’ kicks off, the focus is on how technology and big data can deliver better value healthcare to more people than ever before. January is a time for reflection, planning and predicting what lies ahead. It’s the season for assessing the mega-trends that will shape our future and working out how we will respond. Perhaps the most prestigious venue for future-gazing is Davos where world leaders from politics and business gather on 17-20 January for the World Economic Forum . Here, global influencers will look at how prevailing economic, social and political forces present challenges and opportunities for all of us. Last year, the key phrase from Davos was the ‘ 4 th Industrial Revolution’ . The WEF set the tone for thousands of conversations on the topic last year, including at the MedTech Forum in Brussels last December. This year – with the convergence of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological systems still very much in view – the theme will be Responsive and Responsible Leadership . But what can healthcare leaders expect from 2017? When it comes to healthcare , the WEF frames the conversation with some key demographic statistics: - By 2050, the world’s population will have risen to 9.7 billion - 2 billion people will be over the age of 60 To continue to meet the (growing) demands of healthcare consumers without blowing up healthcare budgets, new ways of delivery services will be required. Smarter, more efficient, technologies and systems will be essential. This brings us to the concept at the heart of many new-year health policy forecasts: value . Value-based healthcare has been something of a buzzword since it was coined by Harvard’s Michael Porter . Most of us have an intuitive sense of value. In healthcare, Porter...