Thursday 23 February 2017

'Realistic' Fine Gael to tone down health plans

Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

'The Fine Gael Manifesto promises the medical cards in the first year of new government to children who are covered by the Domiciliary Care Allowance' Photo: PA (stock photo)
'The Fine Gael Manifesto promises the medical cards in the first year of new government to children who are covered by the Domiciliary Care Allowance' Photo: PA (stock photo)

Fine Gael will give full medical cards to 10,000 children with a severe disability if returned to government.

The party's manifesto, to be published tomorrow, promises the medical cards in the first year of new government to children who are covered by the Domiciliary Care Allowance.

It will also promise to make it easier for private patients to afford medicines by cutting the maximum €1,728 they pay annually in the Drugs Payment Scheme to €950.

The party also says it will reduce the monthly cap of €25 in prescription charges for medical card holders to €17.50.

But it only pledges to extend free GP care to the under-18s.

The more "restrained promises" are in stark contrast to the extravagant pledges - to provide universal health insurance and free GP care for all and to abolish the prescription charge - that marked its 2011 pre-election manifesto, proposals that failed to materialise.

However, evidence of the party's underachievement in delivering on these promises was clear in the leaders' TV debate on Thursday when Taoiseach Enda Kenny was tackled on the issue.

But Fine Gael's outgoing Coalition partner, the Labour Party, yesterday insisted it is continuing to press ahead with promises to extend free GP care to the entire population if returned to government.

Labour leader Joan Burton said: "I know this is ambitious but I believe it can be done."

The scheme is costed at €584m. However, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said it is unrealistic because there will not be enough GPs to deliver it.

In the Labour manifesto, the party proposes to recruit 1,426 GPs through measures such as a "bring them home" campaign.

It will also reduce the prescription charge for medical card holders by €1 to €1.50. The most that private patients would pay under the Drugs Payment Scheme per month will be €100 per family and €75 for a single person versus the current €144.

Labour would also gradually restore dental benefits for PRSI holders, beginning with an additional oral exam and a free scale-and-polish annually.

In a bid to reduce waiting lists, it is promising to examine pay and working conditions for doctors in hospitals.

Labour also wants more vetting of the competence of people who sit on the boards of hospitals and will require hospital chief executives to appear before the Public Accounts Committee.

It also plans to introduce a sugar tax within the first year - despite the proposal being turned down twice by Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

Labour reiterated its pledge to hold a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Ms Burton said that at the heart of the Labour Party's manifesto was the development of primary care, which includes GP and other professional services outside hospital.

"To date 90 primary care centres have been completed and 16 more are under construction. I expect that construction will begin on a further 14 centres next month.

"Primary care centres are the way of the future."

She added: "I want to appoint a full cabinet minister with responsibility for primary care in order to make progress as quickly as possible. In the past, the development of primary care has played second fiddle to the challenges of the acute hospital system."

Irish Independent

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