Patients will either reap benefit or pay the price of proposal

It’s either someone finally talking some long-overdue sense, or the most cynical moving of the political goalposts in a generation, writes Fiachra Ó’Cionnaith

And, whatever your interpretation is, ultimately voiceless patients far from the halls of Leinster House will be the ones to either reap the benefit or pay the price of the high-stakes proposal.

Under plans first outlined in opposition election manifestos and now knitted tightly into the Government’s programme, Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday announced plans for a cross-party group to decide on health policy for the next decade. As part of the move, which has long been called for by medics tired of needless political rows, the new committee will be tasked with drawing up a long-term strategy for how to fix the health service.

The committee will focus on securing enough money to genuinely cover health service needs, hospital bed space, waiting lists, early diagnosis of conditions, and primary care.

However, unlike all other reform incarnations, Mr Harris’ plan contains one key extra ingredient.

Any strategy, which it is hoped will be in place by the end of this year, will also have the backing of all parties in the Dáil — lessening the risk of the opposition attempting to make political capital out of any crises that are still certain to present themselves over the coming years.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, the health minister was keen to promote the plan as an “historic” opportunity.

However, while this is true and the ending of the chopping and changing nature of health service policies should be commended, some are less than convinced.

In the minority government era, for every mention of “new” politics and consensus views, there is always the flip side of “old” politics, cynicism.

More than a few opposition TDs yesterday eyed the new plan with an element of suspicion behind their words of support — particularly as it will effectively decommission a key piece of weaponry in their own parties’ attacks on Government. Something Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Health Minister Simon Harris know all too well.

As Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly justifiably pointed out in yesterday’s Dáil debate, patients do not need “a pantomime” but real reform.

For both sides of the political divide, it remains to be seen which of the options the cross-party committee will become.


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