Behind the Highest Life Expectancy in Europe


Madrid, Spain’s capital, is the city with the highest life expectancy in Europe at 85.2 years. Moreover, Spain as a whole is one of Europe’s best performers in terms of life expectancy, ranking fourth globally and second in the continent.


Explanations for this include the Spanish predilection for a ‘Mediterranean diet’ (rich in olive oil, fruit and vegetables), one of the lowest mortality rates for heart disease in the world, the sixth lowest rate of suicide in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and good-quality universal healthcare.


Enrique Ruiz Escudero, the Community of Madrid’s Minister of Health, asserts that the healthcare available in Madrid – Spain’s geographic, cultural and economic centre and at the heart of one of the country’s wealthiest regions – is of an especially high quality and density. He notes that “Madrid has 6.5 million citizens and we have a network of 34 hospitals, 430 health centres and 71,000 staff, including 16,000 doctors… The total Community budget is more than EUR 19 billion and the Madrid MoH represents 41 percent of this – highlighting the strength and the importance of healthcare here.”


Given the city’s ageing population, whether this elevated level of healthcare spending is sustainable is open to debate. Moreover, it would be unwise to paint the Madrilenian and, indeed the Spanish healthcare system as perfect. Significant economic disparities exist between Spain’s 17 regions, the healthcare system is decentralized – lacking universal patient records and the uptake of digital solutions and new technologies can be extremely slow.


As Margarita Alfonsel of Fenin, Spain’s medical device association, declares, “the percentage of medical technologies in Spanish hospitals which are more than five years’ old is significantly higher than the rate recommended by the COCIR [the Europe-wide medical device association]. When technology is too old, it can mean less precision in diagnostic exams and a lower quality of health assistance.”


Despite these nationwide issues, Ruiz Escudero feels that Madrid has been able to forge ahead in healthcare by embracing an innovative management model and opening up to public-private collaboration. He explains, “Our management model allows for collaboration between the public and private sector. Around 20 to 25 percent of our activity is done with our supervision but with private management. This allows for homogenization since our indexes are similar, patient satisfaction is high but also allows transparency in each process. It keeps us in constant check.”


A highly developed transport network, rated as one of Europe’s best, also contributes to Madrid’s health. Ruiz Escudero points out that, “it takes one and a half hours to drive across the region; our transport network helps make our urgent and primary care incredibly fast.”


Furthermore, the Madrid government has recently taken steps to improve the city’s air quality through increased pedestrianization of major roadways, the creation of a ‘Zero Emissions Zone’ restricting vehicle access to most of the old city, the establishment of a 70 km per hour speed limit and a doubling of the amount of BiciMAD bicycles ( Madrid’s public bike rental service) available.


Ruiz Escudero concludes, “Madrileños feel proud of their health and it’s a value that defines us… We are the region with the highest life expectancy in Europe and this forces us to stay on our toes, always innovating and making sure that we maintain the best management possible.”

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