Reform plan would see free GP care for all

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

Free GP care will be extended to 500,000 people each year for five years, under an ambitious plan to reform the health service.

Around 50% of the population currently has free GP care and extending it to all is estimated to cost between €62m and €72m per year and will take five years, according to the committee on the future of healthcare, which has cross-party involvement and support.

However, for the ambitious deadline to be met, the capacity of general practice will have to increase and a new GP contract agreed.

If the 10-year, €5.8bn plan is implemented:

  • Charges for public hospital patients would be dropped immediately;
  • Prescription charges for medical card holders would be cut from €2.50 to €1.50 in year one and be reduced to 50c in year three;
  • Thresholds for the drugs payment scheme would come down , and the emergency department charge would be removed in year eight;
  • Palliative care would be free for everyone within five years of the proposals being adopted.

One of the key recommendations of the Sláinte Care Report is that all private work be moved out of public hospitals and the committee has admitted that this will be “complex”.

Public hospitals currently earn about €650m each year from private insurers so the income would have to be replaced.

The committee wants an independent impact analysis of the separation of private practice from the public system so that any “adverse and unintended consequences” can be identified.

The plan also recommends guaranteeing waiting limits of 12 weeks for an inpatient procedure, 10 weeks for an outpatient appointment and 10 days for a diagnostic test.

Hospitals that breach guarantees will be held accountable through a range of effective measures including, ultimately, sanctions on senior staff.

The committee heard evidence from experts, medics and patient groups over the past year.

Health Minister Simon Harris had campaigned for the establishment of the committee.

“I firmly believe that this is the last change of this generation to get this right and take politics out of health,” he said.

Committee chairwoman Róisín Shortall said the report would deliver for Ireland the sort of fair, affordable and effective public health system that was desperately needed and which most of their European neighbours enjoyed.

Ms Shortall said that the plan would mean a saving of €285 per person per year, which will result from the removal or reduction of most of the existing charges.

The report recommends making the minister for health legally responsible and accountable for the elivery of healthcare, the health system and health reform.

Also, the HSE directorate should become a more strategic national centre with a reduced number of national directors reporting to the director general.

The Private Hospitals Association dismissed the report as a fudge.

The Irish Medical Organisation said free GP care for all was not achievable.


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