Urgent action is needed in Latvia to tackle poor health provision, high levels of poverty and inadequate housing. This is the message of a new report, Focus on Latvia, published by the Semester Alliance and directed at the European Commission as it drafts the country report for Latvia due for publication next February.
The report acknowledges that in previous country reports and in the country specific recommendations (CSRs), the European Commission has recognised the failings of the Latvian health system as well as the increase in poverty and inequality. However, the Semester Alliance argues that massive challenges remain in these areas and they should continue to be the main priorities both in the upcoming country report and next year’s CSRs.
In addition, the report notes that problems of inadequate housing supply, poor quality housing and homelessness have not been addressed at all in previous country reports or CSRs. A housing index developed by the housing and homelessness organisations FEANTSA and Fondation Abbé Pierre puts Latvia 24th out of 28 Member States and makes clear that this is an issue that cannot be ignored in the Semester process.
EPHA has already highlighted some of the healthcare challenges facing Latvia, which are discussed in more detail in the report. As well as lower levels of life expectancy compared to the EU average, healthcare challenges posed by an ageing society and 21st century lifestyles, low levels of public spending on health and high private out-of-pocket payments, and a chronic shortage of healthcare workers, particularly in the areas of nursing and midwifery, mean that a significant proportion of the population are unable to access the healthcare they need, either due to financial barriers, waiting times or lack of provision close to where they live.
The government is now considering wide-ranging healthcare reform and a new health systems financing model, but there is concern that this will lead to privatisation of the national healthcare system. The report calls for any such proposal to be ruled out, rather increasing overall health spending to 4.5% of GDP, and reducing out-of-pocket spending by 10 points by 2018, to ensure that there are significant improvements to the quality and access of healthcare in Latvia. In addition, the lowest pay rates in the health service should be increased above the national average trend, to tackle the shortage in healthcare workers.
Focus on Latvia proposes a number of other recommendations that the Semester Alliance would like to see taken up by the Commission and the Alliance is distributing the report to key actors at national and European level.
Policy Coordinator for EU Semester and Social Pillar Project Manager FRESHER