Are we prepared to pay taxes for health?
Published 31/08/2015 | 02:30
Just when the Government thinks it has a small bit of financial leeway, a hefty additional bill for the health services drops. It calls to mind the old millionaire businessman's summation of "a few hundred million here and a few hundred million there... and suddenly you're talking big money".
The surprise about this really should be that anyone is surprised at all. We have been told for several months now that the Government has some €1.5bn to spare in the Budget next October.
Everyone assumes that this will be used by the Coalition parties to ensure they can win back power in the forthcoming general election. After seven years of doing far more for less, the people are understandably weary and would welcome the encouragement of even modest tax cuts.
But enter the Health Service Executive bosses with their 2016 Budget blueprint. The big picture looks like this: the 2015 health spend is €500m over what was provided; just matching current service levels in 2016 will cost another €650m; and then you must factor in addressing pressing deficiencies like substandard care facilities for the elderly and the other problems which have been unearthed by investigations conducted by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
The projected 2016 extra demand could be as high as €1.9bn, suggesting tax increases rather than cuts might be the more realistic option. It is a sobering thought and it should provoke a more measured adult debate.
Most people will agree our health services have fundamental problems which undermine the good work done by our healthcare professionals every day. We know that part of the problem is that we sometimes get bad value for money. But we also know that our services are, in fact, underfunded. So, it is time we asked: are we prepared to pay more taxes to fund a better health service?