By Emma Hawe . Published by Radcliffe Publishing Ltd , UK . 2009 ISBN 978-1-84619-318-7 . 283 pages plus index . RRP $1130

Reviewed by Lyn Watson

Mother and Child Health Research, La Trobe University, Victoria

This is a wonderful production: hardcover, high-quality paper and print, a joy to browse through. However, at the price it is likely to be available only to a few select individuals, or more precisely, organisations. It is a reference book and therefore likely only to be borrowed from a library.

The well-known and highly regarded annual publication from the UK is produced by the UK Office of Health Economics (OHE). Data sources are all cited and their provenance is good. The Compendium is regarded as the gold standard on UK Health Statistics.

The focus of the data is the UK, but there are many comparative statistics for OECD and EC countries also provided in Tables and Figures. As well, there are population statistics for these countries over time from 1960 to 2006.

The Compendium has four sections:

  • Population, mortality, morbidity and lifestyle
  • UK healthcare expenditure and cost of the NHS and private healthcare
  • Hospital services including cost, workforce and activities
  • Family health services including medical, pharmaceutical, dental and ophthalmic services.

The first section was particularly interesting for me. I spent several hours browsing and marvelling at many interesting facts. For instance, did you know that of the 37 OECD and EU countries cited, Australia has, for males, the second-lowest prevalence for smoking (Fig 1.20, p69)? It is beaten only by Sweden which surprisingly is the only country in which females have a higher prevalence than males. The data on obesity (BMI>30) is alarming to say the least (Fig 1.24, p 75). Australia with just under 25% prevalence for males and females is ranked fifth for males after the US (37% for males and 42% for females), Greece, Malta and Mexico. New Zealand is seventh for males (23%) but fourth for females (32%). Obesity is more common in females than males in the majority of countries. For mortality from diseases such as coronary heart disease (Fig 1.13, p 54), cerebrovascular disease, and lung cancer (Fig 1.15, p56) Australia fares well: 11th lowest of 34 for CHD and 3rd lowest for both CVD and lung cancer.

Comparative infant mortality rates for OECD and EU countries from 1960 to 2006 shows the extraordinary universal more than four-fold drop over the 50 years, whether from 20.2 to 4.7per 1000 live births for Australia or from 189.5 to 22.6 in Turkey. Unfortunately, apart from citing the sources, denominators and ascertainment issues are not discussed. Therefore, caution on interpreting these data needs to be used. Comparative health costs are also worthy of browsing.

All the data and figures are well and consistently presented. With countries listed in alphabetical order in tables and ranked by decreasing male prevalence in figures.

The likely purchasers for this valuable reference book are Government departments, Pharmaceutical companies and libraries. Given its UK focus, there would be limited use in Australia. Unfortunately Public Health researchers would be unlikely to be able to purchase it. As one researcher said to me “it would be lovely to have on one's bookshelf”.