Changes in access to primary care in Europe and its patterning, 2007-12: a repeated cross-sectional study

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Background: The strengthening of primary care (PC) has been encouraged as a strategy to achieve more efficient and equitable health systems. However, the Great Recession may have reduced access to PC. This paper analyses the change in access to PC and its patterning in 28 European countries between 2007 and 2012.

Methods: We used data from the 2007 and 2012 waves of the EU-SILC questionnaire (n = 687 170). The dependent variable was the self-reported access to PC ('easy' vs. 'difficult'). We modelled the access to PC as a function of the year and individual socioeconomic and country-level health system variables, using a mixed effects logistic regression, adjusting for sex, age, civil status, country of birth, chronic condition and self-reported health. Additionally, we interacted the year with socioeconomic and country-level variables.

Results: The probability of reporting difficult access to PC services was 4% lower in 2012, in comparison with 2007 (OR = 0.96, P < 0.01). People with the lowest educational level (OR = 1.63, P < 0.01), high difficulty to make ends meet (OR = 1.94, P < 0.01) and with material deprivation (OR = 1.25, P < 0.01) experienced a significantly higher likelihood of difficult access. The better access in 2012 was significantly higher in people living in countries with higher health expenditures, a greater number of generalist medical practitioners, and with stronger gatekeeping.

Conclusion: Access to PC improved between 2007 and 2012, and this improvement was greater for people living in countries with a higher investment in health and PC. However, the poor access amongst low-SE status people was stable over the period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-404
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Journal Article


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