Sunday 11 December 2016

There’s only room for short-termism in health politics

Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30

Minister Leo Varadkar
Minister Leo Varadkar

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Benjamin Franklin's quote aptly describes current Irish health policy. There's an identity crisis in our national health services. At every level of clinical care, intrinsic confusion exists as to the ultimate model of delivering treatment. Contradictions also abound as to the fundamentals of health policy. Fine Gael and Labour's Programme for Government promised Universal Health Insurance (UHI) by 2019 to end 'two-tier' health care, whereby public patients received a lesser, slower service and private patients could queue-jump into fast-track quality treatment. The idea was to achieve equality of access through uniform health cover, with the State paying premiums for those who couldn't afford it.

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Eventually, a White Paper established guesstimate costs to be €920 per person - a couple with two children facing additional annual stealth tax of €3,680. But there were no answers as to who employs 97,000 health staff when the HSE was abolished. UHI would exclude mental health/disability services, ambulance network, long-stay residential care and other unspecified core facilities.

Leo Varadkar ditched these UHI commitments, after James Reilly's removal. The proposals were long-fingered and quietly shelved in the face of Department of Finance/Public Expenditure scepticism. Yet its ultimate abandonment creates new problems. What will replace it? A mix of public and private healthcare, or what?

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