Sunday 25 February 2018

Elderly and young children to benefit from health budget

Overall some €13.1bn was announced for the health service yesterday. Thinkstock Images
Overall some €13.1bn was announced for the health service yesterday. Thinkstock Images
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

ELDERLY people waiting for a nursing home bed, children who need speech and language therapy, and expectant mothers will be among the main beneficiaries from the increase of €280m in next year's health budget.

Around €40m of this will also be allocated to expanded GP services at the end of the year, including free visits for all children aged six to eleven.

But, while the health service has done best of all government departments, the increase in spending allows just "modest scope" for new developments, Health Minister Leo Varadkar admitted at his Budget 2016 briefing.

Overall some €13.1bn was announced for the health service yesterday - but around €600m of this is already spoken for, in the form of the supplementary estimate to cover spending for this year.

The extra funding for the Fair Deal nursing home scheme will be a relief as it means the waiting time for a place will not go beyond four weeks. But there is added difficulty in some areas of the country where there are not enough nursing home beds.

Some of the extra funding will also go towards improving maternity services, in the wake of recommendations by Hiqa following the Portlaoise Hospital controversy.

It will see the appointment of Directors of Midwifery and bereavement teams in all maternity units. It is also planned to expand the availability of scans for pregnant women to diagnose problems as early as possible in the foetus.

Overall, the minister said "the €13.1bn will allow us to maintain the existing level of service, provide for an increase in demand that arises from the growing and ageing population and also make a few key improvements."

The exact price tag for several of the measures however will not become clear until the HSE delivers its service plan for 2016 next month, when it sets out where the money will be spent.

Other areas earmarked for improvement include:

n Funding for more paramedics as well as community responder teams in the ambulance service. These provide a rapid response to emergencies in more isolated areas.

n More child speech and language therapy for children. It will also see the hiring of more occupational therapists.

n The extension of the winter imitative which allows hospitals with overcrowded A&Es the freedom to open beds along with other measures.

n More supports to allow children with a disability to attend mainstream schools.

The minister said the budget for the service was still around €1bn lower than at its peak.

Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch said there will be increased efforts to expand on community care services for people with a mental illness.

She hopes the increase in house prices will mean that there will be a higher income from the estates of people who have availed of the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.

There will be no increase in the prescription charge for medical card holders and hospital overnight charges.

It had been hoped there would have been room to reduce the prescription charge this year.

The threshold for the Drug Payment Scheme is unchanged.

However, there must also be "savings" of €125m in better prescribing, drug costs and procurement.

Commenting on the plan, Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Billy Kelleher said there was a lot of "dishonest spinning" in the figures.

He said even the €280m is still €25m less than the €305m increase in 2015.

Irish Independent

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