Eighty six per cent of people in Ireland report their quality of life as ‘good’ or ‘very good’

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Eighty six per cent of people in Ireland reported their quality of life was ‘good’ or ‘very good, according to the’ the Healthy Ireland Survey, 2023.

The survey, results also showed that alcohol consumption levels had decreased, the  use of e-cigarettes had increased, there was a post-pandemic increase in the use of antibiotics and an increase in health service utilisation.

Supported by the Department of Health, 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 was stable, the same as reported in 2021 – 2022 –  18% of people were current smokers, 14% smoked daily and 4% smoked occasionally. This was a significant reduction from 2015, when 23% smoked.   This year’s survey showed 8 per cent of the population used e-cigarettes. Usage rates had risen from 6% last year and were highest amongst 15-24 year-olds (used by 20% of women and 16% of men in this age group).

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

For the first time, the Healthy Ireland Survey asked respondents to participate in a drug use module. Thirty per cent reported lifetime drug use, 6% reported drug use in the previous 30 days, 5% in the last year (more than 30 days ago). The most prevalent illicit drug in the last year was cannabis, which was used by 6% of the population. This was three times the level of usage of cocaine, the next most common drug.

The  2023 Survey found that 86% reported their quality of life as ‘good’ or ‘very good,’ with just 5% saying that their quality of life was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor.’ The average 2023 Energy and Vitality Index (EVI) score, with higher scores indicating positive mental health, was 65.3. This had increased from 62.4 in 2021 but remained 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), was 78.2, an improvement on 76.0 in 2021, but higher than the pre-pandemic measurement of 81.2 in 2016.

Over one third (35%) said they felt more socially connected since 2021, with 22% reporting feeling less socially connected and 43% reporting no change.

Sixty-nine per cent of respondents knew someone who had died by suicide, with 15% of respondents reporting that someone close to them died in this way. It should be noted that just 28% of survey respondents completed the questions on suicide. This indicated a response bias as those for whom suicide resonates strongly may have been more likely to agree to take part in this module.

In terms of health service use, 76% reported visiting a GP in the previous 12 months, with an average of 4.0 visits per person. Fifty five 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% 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% had visited an emergency department (ED), 4% had visited a minor injury unit (MIU), and 9% had visited an out-of-hours GP service. 36% had visited a consultant, 16% had been admitted to hospital as a day patient and 12% 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  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 are rising.

Forty-one per cent of the population reported taking an antibiotic in the previous 12 months, significantly higher than the 27% reported during the pandemic in 2021 and 2% higher than the proportion in 2017. Seventy eight per cent correctly agreed that antibiotics killed bacteria and 59% understood that antibiotics do not kill viruses.

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Breda Smyth, said, ““We have seen some encouraging trends in the 2023 Survey, indicating some improvements in population health and in some key lifestyle risk factors such as alcohol consumption . These figures reaffirm the need for robust initiatives that support us all to live happier, healthier lives, such as the Public Health (Alcohol) Act, 2018 and the forthcoming Public Health (Tobacco Products & Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill.

“It is notable that our health service is working harder than ever to meet the needs of an expanding population, providing supports that improve access to affordable healthcare including free contraception and the expansion of GP visit cards.”

A representative sample of 7,411 people aged 15 and older living in Ireland were interviewed between October 2022 and April 2023.

The Healthy Ireland Survey report 2023 and the summary of findings are available at www.gov.ie/hisurvey2023