The Medical Technology Blog

Italy has the fourth largest economy in Europe, although there are sharp regional differences with the wealthier industrial north having a much higher standard of living than the more rural south. The provision of healthcare in Italy is advanced with universal access. However, although once rated by WHO as having the second best healthcare system in the world (World Health Report 2000), Italy has found it difficult to keep pace with increasing demand for healthcare services amidst mounting financial difficulties.

The Italian national health service, which is the dominant provider of care, is struggling to cope with rising costs, long waiting lists and poor management systems. A system whereby the regions are responsible for health service delivery, whilst central government remains responsible for the distribution of funds, has resulted in mounting deficits in certain areas of the country. Despite efforts to ensure equal access to health services, regional inequalities persist in the level of health service provision with hospitals in the north attracting patients from less developed regions in the south. The rapidly ageing population is already putting extra pressure on existing resources, particularly as services to cater for the elderly and the dependent are under-developed.

The re-establishment in December 2009 of a dedicated Ministry of Health, separate from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, is an indication of the higher priority being given to healthcare in the wake of the swine flu epidemic and the ongoing financial problems in several regional health services. The Ministry of Health has embarked on a programme of large-scale investment in the health service. Investment is focusing on upgrading of health facilities in the South to reduce the mobility of patients from South to North.

Italy is emerging from an economic recession. Having contracted by 5.1% in 2009, GDP grew by 1.2% in 2010, but the economy is only expected to register weak growth between 2011 and 2016.

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