A new report which canvassed the views of people in different parts of the country has recommended changes to how health services are delivered.
The European Anti-poverty Network Ireland (EAPN), which comprises almost 170 groups and individuals working against poverty, published the research entitled Giving Health Inequality a Voice, which involved five "community conversations" on how to improve services and reduce health inequalities.
Those conversations took place late last year in Longford Town, Tallaght and the North Inner City in Dublin, Knocknaheeney in Cork City and Donegal Town and the project is funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
It said that: "in Ireland the State is failing in its duty to provide adequate healthcare for many disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups, with the result that they experience worse health outcomes, including lower life expectancy".
As for recommendations that came directly from the people who attended the five EAPN Ireland focus groups, they included mandatory training on the social determinants of health for all health and social care staff in both acute and community settings "to deepen their ability to engage respectfully and appropriately with people from different cultural and social backgrounds".
According to the report: "Participants raised concerns over long waiting times as a serious barrier to accessing healthcare as well as the additional barriers created by the cost or inadequate provision of transport.
"The corrosive impact of poor mental health on individuals, families and communities was a priority issue for participants. People were unanimous that experiencing poor mental health often stemmed from their daily struggles dealing with the social determinants of health — housing, low or no income, poor educational opportunities and attainment, living in deprived areas with no amenities, uncertain legal status et al."
Among the recommendations were that the HSE employ people who have experience of mental health conditions, to work in support roles in the community, and the provision of 24/7 access to community-based wrap-around mental health services.
Participants also wanted a one-stop phone line for mental health services be rolled out to all regions, and for GPs to have "a proactive approach to collaborating with local community and voluntary service providers and refer patients if appropriate".
Those involved in the report also suggested that pharmacists should be incentivised to collaborate proactively with local organisations to improve service user understanding, and that GPs be allowed to issue repeat prescriptions for people with chronic conditions, avoiding the need to attend specialist out-patient clinics.
As for dental services, participants said they wanted improved capacity in the Dental Treatment Service Scheme to reduce waiting time for treatment and weekend access to emergency dental services.
Paul Ginnell, Director of EAPN Ireland, said: "The focus groups for this report took place prior to the arrival of Covid-19 in Ireland. However, the issues raised in the report will only be exacerbated by the current crisis, making the need to address them even more urgent."