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Austria - Health Service
Other important emergency numbers are:
• Fire department 122
• Police 133
• GP services outside of normal surgery hours 141
• Europe-wide emergency service 112
• Pharmacy emergency hotline 1455
• Poisoning emergency line 01/406 43 43
• Social psychological emergency assistance (around the clock) 01/313 30
• Helpline for children (“Rat auf Draht”) 147
• Suicide and crisis intervention hotline (around the clock) 142
• Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline (free, around the clock) 0800/222 555
British residents who are going on holiday to Austria are able to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which means cardholders are able to access state-provided healthcare at a reduced or nil cost. This includes accident, emergency, maternity (as long as the purpose of the trip was not to give birth) and pre-existing condition treatments that will allow you to continue your stay in the country for the planned trip. However, the National Health Service (NHS) is only eligible for UK residents, so once you move to Austria you are no longer entitled to NHS services or to be an EHIC card-holder. There are some exceptions, such as students who may continue to receive UK NHS cover subject to a number of conditions, and pensioners with an exportable UK pension or benefit who have received an S1 Certificate of Entitlement form.
Once you are an Austrian resident, whatever your country of origin, contributions must be paid to a local social insurance organisation known as a Sozialversicherungsträger. This will allow you to join a Gebietskrankenkasse, which is a regional health insurance service provider. They will send you and any insured family members an Austrian health card, called the e-card, which allows access to free healthcare services. You must remember to take the e-card with you to every medical appointment.
If you are working, the contributions you make to the local social insurance organisation will be deducted from your salary by your employer, who will then pay the contributions on your behalf.
You do not need to register with a GP, but there can be a long wait if you turn up at a surgery without one. The regional medical association in each area will be able to help you find an English speaking doctor. Both the English Embassy in Vienna and the Vienna medical association (the latter runs a Foreign Patients Service) can advise on finding an English speaking GP in the city, and the Vienna City Council website also allows you search a listing of local doctors by expertise, location, opening hours and foreign languages spoken. You have to pay a fee to see a GP unless you visit one who accepts state payments; they will usually display the “Kassenarzt” or “Alle Kassen” sign to show they do.
Vaccinations are usually done at a GP surgery, but will rarely be entirely free. The population as a whole have been recipients of a comprehensive childhood immunisation programme and so life threatening diseases are held in abeyance. For adults, a flu vaccination programme is run for those whose age or medical conditions make them vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus, whilst a three year injection is available to everyone to protect them against tick-borne encephalitis which is a risk in forested areas from spring to autumn.
Access to hospital services will be on an emergency basis or via a GP’s referral. Most people will attend the General Hospital. The accommodation you receive in hospital will depend on the funding (private patients will be in a one or two patient room, whilst state funded patients may have to share a bay with three other patients) but the treatment provided should all be to the same high standard.
Health care spending in Austria is roughly 11% of GDP, slightly higher than the OECD average of 9.3% though well below the 16.9% of GDP spent on healthcare in the US. More than three quarters of healthcare spending is funded by public sources, again slightly higher than the OECD average. Whilst the economic crises of 2008 slowed the growth in health care spending, 2012 marked a change with a 3% real term growth to meet the needs of an aging population, where women are having an average of less than two babies and are starting motherhood later whilst the older population lives longer. The average life expectancy in Austria is 81 years, making it 18th highest in the world.
In 2009 the VAT on medicines was dropped from 20% to 10%, which means pharmaceutical spending dropped that year and remained essentially flat thereafter. State funded patients will usually pay a small set charge for each prescription, with the balance covered by the state, whilst private patients are responsible for the entire cost which they will recover from their health insurance policy provider.
Obesity is of increasing concern in Austria, although only an estimated 12% of adults have a BMI of 30 and above, which is the normal benchmark. This compares to 28% of adults in the UK and almost 36% in the USA, and Austria is ranked by Forbes.com as the 52nd fattest country in the world. The primary cause of obesity in Austria is thought to be lack of exercise, which starts in childhood.
The incidence of diabetes is fairly low within the native resident population, at roughly 5% of the adult population, but the disease has been identified at a far higher rate in the Turkish and Moroccan immigrant communities, especially for women; almost 19% of women from Turkish origin have been diagnosed and the causes are thought to be both socio-economic and cultural, affecting diet and exercise. The ODG is the Austrian Diabetes Association which works to improve the health and quality of life for those living with diabetes, including advice and awareness raising activities. They support a number of projects, including those targeted to the Turkish communities in Austria, a national insulin pump register and diabetes camps for children with diabetes.
Alcohol consumption in Austria is at a far higher rate than the OECD average, and is normally at the top of the league table for consumption per head. The incidence of teenagers drinking and taking drugs is much higher than in most other countries, and heavy ‘episodic’ drinking - also known as binge drinking - is a problem amongst the lower income adult population of all ages. Public drinking is legally allowed in most places. Wine and beer can be purchased from the age of 16, whilst liquor and spirits must not be sold to under 18s.
Alcohol addiction is a serious problem affecting both the health and life expectancy of the drinker, but also the stability and happiness of their family and work colleagues. Austria offers a number of programmes and support groups to support anyone wishing to overcome this addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous in Vienna run 16 group sessions each week for English speakers.
Smoking rates are about 23% for Austrian adults, which is slightly higher than the OECD average, but there has been a long term reduction in tobacco consumption. In 2015 a widespread ban was placed on smoking in all restaurants and bars, but young people can purchase cigarettes from the age of 16.
E-cigarettes are no longer banned, but laws have been introduced to restrict vaping sales. Advertising of e-cigarettes has been prohibited, as have speciality shops and distance sales.
The telephone number 142 can be used to contact a suicide prevention hotline, as can 01-713-3374. Austria has just over 11 suicides per 100,000 residents each year, making it number 54 in a global list of suicide rates, joint with Ethiopia. Twice as many people die from suicide as from road traffic accidents, so in 2011 the Austrian parliament developed a national suicide prevention programme. Following the financial crash of 2008, Austria was unusual in that the suicide rate slightly fell over the next couple of years, whilst the rate in most other European countries increased significantly, but no conclusive reason was found for this.
Mental health services in Austria form part of the health service provision. Private therapists are also available, and some specialise in expat counselling and therapy services.
Each year about 500 people in Austria will be diagnosed as HIV sufferers. Austria has a rate of HIV infection higher than the EU average, contracted by unprotected hereterosexual or homosexual sex, or through illegal drug use. Increasing numbers of older people are now being diagnosed, sometimes in their 70s,; they will often be tested later in the disease’s progression than for younger people, as the risks of unprotected sex may not be seen as relevant to older individuals. Since 2010 all expectant mothers have been routinely tested for the virus to ensure unborn children can be protected from the virus during delivery.
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