Health Minister Simon Harris has committed to publishing a 10-year cross-party health service plan by the end of the year in a bid to address chronic problems in the system.
He made the commitment during a detailed Dáil debate on the issue yesterday as it emerged the Government may be forced to take money from other departments this year to pay for runaway budget overruns in the system.
As part of a radical new departure for the health service, Mr Harris put down a Dáil motion to set up a new cross-party committee tasked with agreeing the next decade of policies for the health system.
The move — which has been repeatedly called for by medics in recent years — is designed to ensure genuine reform measures can be introduced for the health service over the next decade, giving health managers the chance to plan properly without the risk of political U-turns.
The policy was put forward by Social Democrats TD Roisín Shortall and Independent election candidate for Dublin South West Peter Fitzpatrick, before being taken up by Mr Harris, after he became health minister last month.
And, speaking in favour of the widely-supported policy in the Dáil, Mr Harris said its first port of call will be to establish a new Committee on the Future of Healthcare, which will allow all parliamentary parties to have a say in future health service policies.
Under the measures outlined, the new committee will be tasked with producing an interim report within two months of being formed, and will be given a deadline of completing a full report on agreed policies for the next decade by the end of the year.
Mr Harris said now is the time to “respond to the challenges” presenting themselves in health. He warned medics are “certainly fatigued by piecemeal reforms” and the “sense of certainty that there is no long-term plan in place”, insisting the proposal is an “historic opportunity” for all politicians and the country.
Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher agreed the current U-turn nature of health policy depending on which party is in power has “sapped the strength” out of the system.
He called for “clear strategies” to be introduced, but noted serious disagreements — such as the future of private health insurance in Ireland — need to be resolved between the parties quickly if the move is to work.
While also supporting the plan in theory, Sinn Féin counterpart Louise O’Reilly warned, “this is not a pantomime, this is very real” and lashed both the current and previous governments for failing to resolve the crisis to date.
Labour TD Sean Sherlock, set to become the party’s next health spokesperson, also backed the motion, but asked what will happen if the committee puts forward suggestions that contradict Government plans. “Will it supersede [Government plans] if it comes up with a set of recommendations that don’t exactly tally with the Programme for Government,” he asked, a question that remained unanswered last night.
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