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J Health Serv Res Policy. 2014 Apr;19(2):69-76. doi: 10.1177/1355819613502012. Epub 2013 Sep 6.

Impact of two different health systems on the burden of type 2 diabetes.

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  • 1Research Fellow, Centre of Excellence for Public Health, Queen's University Belfast, UK.



Health policy directs the management of patients with chronic disease in a country, but evaluating nationwide policies is difficult, not least because of the absence of suitable comparators. This paper examines the management of patients with type 2 diabetes in two demographically comparable populations with different health care systems to see if this represents a viable approach to evaluation.


A secondary analysis of centralized prescribing databases for 2010 was undertaken to compare the levels and costs of care of patients with type 2 diabetes in Northern Ireland's National Health Service (NHS) (NI, n = 1.8 million) which has structured care, financial incentives related to diabetes care and an emphasis on generic prescribing, with that of the Republic of Ireland (ROI, n = 4.3 million) where management of diabetes care is guided solely by clinical and other guidelines.


The prevalence of treated type 2 diabetes was 3.59% in NI and 3.09% in ROI, but there were similar and high levels of prescribing of secondary cardiovascular medications. Medication costs per person for anti-diabetic, anti-obesity and cardiovascular medication were 46% higher in ROI than NI, due to differences in levels of generic prescribing.


These different health care systems appear to be producing similar levels of care for patients with type 2 diabetes, although at different levels of cost. The findings question the need for financial incentives in NI and highlight the large cost savings potentially accruing from a greater shift to generic prescribing in ROI. Cross-country comparison, though not without difficulties, may prove a useful adjunct to within-country analysis of policy impact.


diabetes; evaluation; health policy; health system comparisons

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