HEALTH Minister James Reilly is promising to introduce free GP care for everyone from 2015 – but he cannot say how much the rollout will cost.
The minister made the pledge of free doctor visits for all as he outlined a timeline for major health measures, including the introduction of universal healthcare insurance from 2016.
But none of the promises are costed and even Dr Reilly admitted that much of what he was announcing was not new and had been in the Programme for Government. The difference was that he was putting dates next to various pledges and he could be "held to public account" for those timelines.
The document does not mention the 2015 deadline and merely states that it will introduce legislation to extend GP care without fees on a "phased basis".
Junior Minister Alex White, who is responsible for primary care and the rollout of free GP care, could not give a definite timeline for when everyone would receive free GP visits.
However, he said the plan was to have it in place "by the end of this term of office, 2016".
The Government is already behind schedule in introducing the free GP care for people with long term illnesses, which was announced in the last Budget and is due to begin in March, but it could now be as late as the middle of next year before they receive it.
Dr Reilly said he has not even met the unions representing GPs yet, which would be essential if doctors who now have private patients are to become part of a free state scheme.
Questioned on the start of universal health insurance he said the goal of the Government remains a "single-tier health system" from 2016.
Yesterday's document, entitled 'Future Health: A Strategic Framework for Reform of the Health Service' also outlines timelines for other promised reforms, including:
• Publishing later this year a framework for the reorganisation of hospitals into groups, with implications for smaller hospitals.
• Extending inspections to residential centres for people with disabilities in 2013.
• The top tier of HSE management is to be overhauled and advertisements for the new posts are expected to be posted shortly.
Mr Reilly said the department has agreed a new deal with the makers of generic drugs which will help reduce prices.
They are also reviewing the prescribing habits of GPs.
Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch said the providers of disability services which are funded by the State will be stricter this year and they will have to demonstrate more value for money.
She said over 400 staff for community mental health teams should be in place by next month.