Subjective perceptions of unmet need for health care in Europe among social groups: Findings from the European social survey (2014) special module on the social determinants of health

Eur J Public Health. 2017 Feb 1;27(suppl_1):82-89. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckw219.


Background: Unmet need can be defined as the individually perceived subjective differences between services judged necessary to deal with health problems and the services actually received. This study examines what factors are associated with unmet need, as well as how reasons for unmet need are distributed across socioeconomic and demographic groups in Europe.

Methods: Multilevel logistic regression models were employed using data from the 7th round of the European Social Survey, on people aged 25–75. Self-reported unmet need measured whether respondents had been unable to get medical consultation or treatment in the last 12 months. Reasons for unmet need were grouped into three categories: availability, accessibility and acceptability. Health status was measured by self-reported health, non-communicable diseases and depressive symptoms.

Results: Two-thirds of all unmet need were due waiting lists and appointment availability. Females and young age groups reported more unmet need. We found no educational inequalities, while financial strain was found to be an important factor for all types of unmet need for health care in Europe. All types of health care use and poor health were associated with unmet need. Low physician density and high out-of-pocket payments were found to be associated with unmet need due to availability.

Conclusion: Even though health care coverage is universal in many European welfare states, financial strain appeared as a major determinant for European citizens’ access to health care. This may suggest that higher income groups are able to bypass waiting lists. European welfare states should, therefore, intensify their efforts in reducing barriers for receiving care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Surveys / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Class*
  • Social Determinants of Health*
  • Socioeconomic Factors