PATIENTS have been warned that more health cuts are on the way next year – despite a major new government plan pledging equal and timely care for all.
The grim warning of another cut in funding was delivered by Health Service Executive (HSE) chief Tony O'Brien, just hours before Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched the Government's white paper on universal health insurance.
Mr O'Brien, who was addressing the National Healthcare Conference, said the troika may be gone – but far from expecting an increase in funding next year, the health service is facing another reduction.
"I predict that far from increasing funding, we are facing a reduction next year," he added.
He also revealed: "The HSE is in transition out of existence and it is sliding into the past. There is just 18 months left in it."
This is in reference to the HSE being dismantled in preparation for the introduction of universal health insurance.
The white paper is promising that every citizen will be privately insured by 2019 and the two-tier system will be abolished, with everyone having the same access to hospital and free GP care.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly said: "It will lead to the most radical reform of our health services in decades and result in a fairer, more effective service."
The minister said the "real winners" will be those who currently have neither a medical card nor health insurance, saying their premiums will entitle them to hospital and free GP care. One of the efficiencies which will cut costs will be the system of "money follows the patient", where hospitals are paid per surgery, all of which will be costed for the first time by a pricing office.
Among the groups who will lose out financially will be hospital consultants, who will see a cut in private income.
But the minister said it would not affect the average consultant and doctors would welcome a more orderly hospital system.
Catherine Whelan, chief executive of the Independent Hospitals Association, representing private hospitals, expressed concern that people who take out supplementary insurance will be risk-rated according to age and health status.
The Irish Medical Organisation said it had serious reservations about this kind of insurance model, warning it is coming "unstuck" in Holland.
Dr Reilly said the State would still have to directly fund many health services, including nursing home care and A&E departments, which would not be covered by health insurance.
The new system will have its budget capped and cannot cost more than the two-tier structure it is replacing, according to the document, which makes no guarantee on the length of time that patients will have to wait.