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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Doubts arise over funding of universal health system

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

THE next Government is promising to give free GP care to everyone in the country within five years. But yesterday it did not give any details as to how this will be paid for.

The promise was made despite pre-election claims by Fine Gael that the country could not afford the scheme within that timeframe.

The new Coalition also signalled plans for two new quangos to monitor spending in the health service but did not detail how they might tackle cutting back on fees paid to doctors and consultants.

Both Fine Gael and Labour were in agreement that everyone should have free GP care and compulsory universal health insurance.

But they differed on how soon this was possible.

Fine Gael was cautiously opting for a phasing in of the schemes from 2016. But Labour said both should be fully in place by then.

However, the methods to fund these are highly unpredictable. Doctors and hospital consultants will have to reduce fees and salaries, which will require tortuous negotiations.

More doctors will have to be found, while GPs are asked to delay retirement. The pay bill of the HSE must be also cut and other efficiencies achieved.

At the same time two new quangos will be set up, including a Patient Safety Authority.

The other, an Integrated Care Agency, will oversee how money is spent across the service.

Labour has lost out in its pledge to reorganise rather than abolish the Health Service Executive (HSE). Yesterday's document uses more tempered language but says the HSE "will cease to exist over time" with staff deployed as the new insurance system comes into force.

A white paper on financing healthcare insurance is promised in the Government's first term.

The VHI will not be privatised, as planned by the outgoing government, but will become an insurer offering a public option when health insurance for all is introduced.

Irish Independent

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