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Healthy Ireland survey results show rise in use of e-cigarettes and antibiotics but decrease in alcohol consumption

By Irish Pharmacist - 02nd Dec 2023

Results from the Healthy Ireland Survey 2023 have been unveiled by the Government.

The survey reveals:

  • A total of 86% report their quality of life as ‘good’ or ‘very good’;
  • Alcohol consumption levels have decreased;
  • Use of e-cigarettes has increased;
  • Post-pandemic increase in the use of antibiotics;
  • Increase in health service utilisation.

The annual survey, by Ipsos B&A, gives an up-to-date picture of the health of the nation, reporting on many health-related lifestyle behaviours. The 2023 report included smoking, alcohol and drug usage rates, mental health, social connectedness and suicide awareness, general health, antibiotic awareness and health service utilisation. Data was collected between October 2022 and April 2023.

The survey found that the prevalence of smoking is stable, the same as reported in 2021 – 2022. A total of 18 per cent of people are smokers, 14 per cent smoke daily and 4 per cent smoke occasionally. This is a significant reduction from 2015, when 23 per cent smoked. A total of 8 per cent of the population now use e-cigarettes. While e-cigarettes can be a valuable quit aid for smokers, usage rates have risen from 6 per cent last year and are highest among 15-24 year-olds (used by 20 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men in this age group).

Binge drinkers

The proportion of the population consuming alcohol in the previous 12 months is 70 per cent, a reduction on the 75 per cent reported in 2018. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of the population are considered binge drinkers (drinking six or more standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion). Again, this rate remains lower than in 2018 (27 per cent).

For the first time, the Healthy Ireland Survey asked respondents to participate in a drug use module. A total of 21 per cent reported lifetime drug use, 7 per cent reported drug use in the last year, 3 per cent in the last month. The most prevalent illicit drug in the last year was cannabis, which was used by 6 per cent of the population. This was three times the level of usage of cocaine, the next most common drug.

The 2023 Survey found that 86 per cent report their quality of life as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, with just 5 per cent saying that their quality of life is ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. The average 2023 Energy and Vitality Index (EVI) score, with higher scores indicating positive mental health, is 65.3. This has increased from 62.4 in 2021 but remains below levels measured in 2016 (67.8). Conversely, the average Mental Health Index (MHI-5) score in 2023 (where lower scores indicate possible mental ill-health), is 78.2, an improvement on 76.0 in 2021, but higher than the pre-pandemic measurement of 81.2 in 2016.

More than a third (35 per cent) say they feel more socially connected since 2021, with 22 per cent reporting feeling less socially connected and 43 per cent reporting no change.

A total of 69 per cent of respondents know somebody who has died by suicide, with 15 per cent of respondents reporting that someone close to them died in this way. It should be noted that just 28 per cent of survey respondents completed the questions on suicide. This indicates a response bias as those for whom suicide resonates strongly may have been more likely to agree to take part in this module.

GP visits

In terms of health service use, 76 per cent report visiting a GP in the previous 12 months, with an average of 4.0 visits per person. A total of 55 per cent of children attended a GP during the past 12 months with an average of 2.4 visits per child. The number of visits by children was lower than in 2019, when 58 per cent of children had visited a GP in the previous 12 months, with an average of 3.4 visits per child.

In terms of acute service usage within the past 12 months, 16 per cent had visited an emergency department (ED), 4% had visited a minor injury unit (MIU), and 9 per cent had visited an out-of-hours GP service. A total of 36 per cent had visited a consultant, 16 per cent had been admitted to hospital as a day patient and 12 per cent had been admitted for longer. The proportion of people using EDs, MIUs and out-of-hours GP services were similar and in some cases, slightly higher than previously measured.

It should be noted that the Healthy Ireland Survey is a representative study – while the proportions of each age group using our primary and acute health services may not have changed much, increases in both overall population numbers and the proportion of older people (as reported in Census 2022), means that the total number of appointments, attendances and admissions have increased and that pressure on the healthcare system is rising.

A total of 41 per cent of the population report taking an antibiotic in the last 12 months, significantly higher than the 27 per cent reported during the pandemic in 2021, and 2 per cent higher than the proportion in 2017. A total of 78 per cent correctly agreed that antibiotics kill bacteria and 59% understood that antibiotics do not kill viruses.

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