Saturday 22 October 2016

Born-again FF's health policy has plenty of gain - but is largely silent on the pain

Published 22/04/2015 | 02:30

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

Some of the best parts of Fianna Fail's freshly-minted health policy are not new. For instance, its suggestion to revive the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to buy surgical operations and specialist appointments for public waiting list patients has merit.

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For many years, the NTPF was the safety valve which helped to keep hospital waiting lists down. It was imperfect, of course, and it never disclosed how much it was paying for the slots in public and private hospitals.

But it has been dormant during the lifetime of the current Government and waiting lists are soaring.

The party's emphasis on providing more care outside of hospital is also hardly ground-breaking. But it has some interesting and original twists.

It suggests that a new breed of GP, a doctor who is employed on a State salary, should be considered for areas which are now without a family doctor.It also gets away from the mantra that a primary care centre, housing doctors, therapists, nurses and other professionals, is the holy grail.

It acknowledges the reality that the role of small GP practices in rural communities must also be supported.

Many people who have grown weary of waiting for the current government to deliver on its promise of universal health care will also find comfort in Fianna Fail's pledge to work to improve the current tax-funded system of publicly delivered services.

It neatly skirts the accusation that this just props up the two-tier system of public and private care. It describes private health care as" complementary" to what the public system provides.

The document is less clear on how it will meet some of the more ambitious promises.

It has a lot of gain but no pain. It wants another 800 nursing home places next year. It says that payments under the Fair Deal should be made from the point of approval rather than admission. And no patient should wait more than two weeks in hospital after being deemed ready for discharge.

The document is silent on how this will be funded and makes no mention of any higher contribution from nursing home residents which is inevitable over time.

There is no word on how it will impose unpopular changes in work practices if its plan to have doctors available to work over seven days on a rotating basis.

It also side-steps any question of downgrading any hospital - although to its credit in government it took risky cancer services from centres.

When it comes to maternity services it wants existing units to be protected and enhanced.

Irish Independent

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