Government says new strategy will provide ‘health service we can be proud of’

Minister for Health Simon Harris labels the Government’s new care initiative as the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ambulances outside Beaumont Hospital in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Ambulances outside Beaumont Hospital in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Minister for Health Simon Harris has labelled the Government’s new health care initiative as the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Slaintecare Implementation Strategy launched in Dublin on Wednesday gives an insight into the Government’s 10-year plan to overhaul Ireland’s healthcare system, moving towards a more universal healthcare system.

“This is the vision, if you’re working in the Health Service today and working bloody hard and you’re wondering if there’s light at the end of the tunnel, this is the light,” he said.

The Fine Gael minister was clear he believed that cost should not be a factor in healthcare, but reiterated Slaintecare was a cross-party backed initiative.

“This is not just my plan, this is a plan come about by huge work on a cross party basis, listening to voices of those working on the front line.

“This is about reforming our health service so that access to health services is judged by need not by ability to pay.”

Earlier this month, it was announced that the new Slaintecare Programme Office will be led by Ms Laura Magahy and a Slaintecare Advisory Council will be put in place, chaired by Dr Tom Keane.

The framework document contains 106 actions over the 10-year period.

Key actions in the first three years of reform include the establishment of a HSE Board to improve accountability, a new community nursing service and increased bed capacity in public hospitals.

Plans for new elective hospitals in Cork, Dublin and Galway are under way, which the Government believes will greatly reduce waiting times, following a similar model in Scotland.

Waiting times will be further addressed including the development of an integrated waiting list management system, which will include a roll out of new eHealth systems.

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The minister acknowledged that waiting times were too long, but criticised his political opponents for publishing figures on Tuesday that showed close to a million people are waiting on a medical procedure or treatment.

“It’s not coincidental that the main opposition party added together figures when we’re about to launch this project.

“477,000 appointments were missed last year, offered to patients and not availed of.

“That’s a serious issue, and I believe it’s mostly down to due to a lack of a proper data system, people being listed on addresses for example, which is why the e-Health records will be introduced.

“In any case I find it difficult to take lectures from the party who reduced hospital beds when they were in government.”

He added Slaintecare’s goal is to get to a waiting list guarantee of 12 weeks.

Another reform goal is to disentangle the public and private healthcare service.

Private health insurance provides significant income for the health service, and the Government has employed an expert panel to decide how best to approach the issue.

One of the suggestions is to utilise the capacity allocated for private providers for public patients in hospitals to free up beds.

This would mean significant contract negotiations between physicians, consultants and private healthcare providers.

There are no figures or costings available for how much Slaintecare will cost overall, however the Government insist there are no proposed tax increases.

“Our growing economy can deliver a health service we can be proud of, we’re making a considerable investment in health, but there will be no tax increases.

“This is not a system we can stand over if someone is avoiding hospital because they can’t afford it,” he said.

Press Association

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