A performance and oversight board to monitor the HSE should be in place next year once the necessary legislation is in place, according to the health minister.

Simon Harris said he had received Cabinet approval to bring forward legislation to put the board in place. The move is one of the key recommendations of the 10-year Sláintecare report which has cross-party backing.

“I want to get the best and brightest brains to help oversee our health service, how the money is spent and how the reform agenda is being delivered and I will come back to the Government on legislation in the coming weeks with a view to having that board in place in 2018,” the minister said.

He aims to come back to government with legislation “in the coming weeks”.

The minister, who was speaking on RTÉ radio following a Cabinet meeting in Cork yesterday, also announced that former HSE board member and chair of the Low Pay Commission, Dónal de Buitléir, would chair a group that will conduct an impact study on decoupling private practice from public hospitals, another Sláintecare recommendation.

Minister Harris said he will be working with Mr de Buitléir in the coming weeks to finalise the terms of reference and he would be asking the group to report back to him by next summer.

The minister also received agreement from Cabinet to launch a consultation process next month looking at how to align hospital groups with community health organisations.

“At the moment we have a situation where hospitals are run through hospital groups but primary care, social care and home care is run through community health.

“The Sláintecare report is very much of the view, and I share the view, that they need to be aligned and merged and work as an entity, so we are going to consult on how best to do that in November.”

Asked if free GP care would be extended to the under 12s next year, Mr Harris said “I certainly hope so”, but it was contingent on the outcome of continuing negotations around a new GP contract. Mr Harris said extension of free GP care was “not a priority” for GPs.

Asked if he might end up switching to a model of low cost, rather than no cost, for GP care, Mr Harris said “that’s not my intention”.

“But we are obviously in negotiations and I’m open to discussing all issues.”

Mr Harris said he was open to looking at the possibility of salaried GPs and subsidised GPs going forward “to make sure we can have GPs in all communities”.

He also pointed out that the extension of free GP care to under 6s was not made on budget day - but after the ex-health minister and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had made progress in talks with GPs.

Asked if a similar announcement might be made in relation to the under 12s, Mr Harris said: “I certainly hope so.”


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