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FG admits its health cover plans will take 10 years

Fine Gael will not be able to begin introducing a system of universal health insurance -- ending the current public and private divide -- for another five years, it emerged yesterday.

And it will take the best part of a decade before it is fully rolled out across the population , the party's spokesman on health Dr James Reilly said.

He was outlining the timescale for the system which aims to see an end to queue-jumping by private patients with everyone in the country insured and on an equal footing.

Under the scheme to be phased in from 2016, GP care will be free and the State will pay premiums for children, students and medical card holders.

The majority of the population would pay no more than €300 annually per person. But he could not say what the cost of the other 44pc with higher incomes would be.

"It will take two terms to implement and may take further into the second term to implement it," he said.

A more immediate promise was to "bring down waiting lists" and build strong community services where people with long-term illnesses, like diabetes, could go to be treated.

Dr Reilly gave no targets for reducing lists but said they would be borrowing a successful scheme introduced in Northern Ireland, which would see "a special delivery unit" set up nationally comprised of doctors and managers.

"They will meet with the manager of each hospital and once targets are agreed they are immovable. They will report weekly and sometimes daily to the Minister for Health. If there is a problem with resources this will be addressed and if a consultant is not doing the job they will be dealt with."


He said he had not budgeted for extra hospital consultants to cut these waiting lists but believed it was possible to free up large hospitals and move routine work to smaller ones.

The party also said it would "abolish" the HSE and shed 8,000 backroom jobs over four years. Two thousand of these will go through a voluntary redundancy scheme costing €400m and the rest through natural wastage.

By 2014 he plans to dismantle the HSE, creating an interim Healthcare Commissioning Authority, which will only exist until the system of universal health insurance is in place.

Dr Reilly said this authority would purchase services from hospitals, which would no longer get a block grant annually.

Instead they would be paid per patient treated.

Dr Reilly said if Fine Gael was elected to government he would not be ordering the automatic opening of closed hospital beds, despite the high numbers of people who remain on hospital trolleys.

Fine Gael will also not be lifting the moratorium on recruitment but would aim to be more flexible in areas of the health service badly hit by staff shortages.

Asked about costings for the plan, Dr Reilly said the universal health insurance could be funded by using the existing €14bn in health spending and another €4bn currently paid in premiums to private health insurers.

Hospital consultants who are on public salaries of around €180,000 would no longer be able to top up their income with €300,000 in private fees once it was introduced. This would entail negotiating a new contract with specialists, he said.

Some €200m could be saved by the use of generic and cheaper medicines, he added. And the overtime and agency bill of €1.1bn could be cut.

"A huge amount of savings could also be made by moving people who can be treated in the community out of hospital. There are around 9,000 people attending the diabetic clinic in St James's hospital who don't need to be seen in a hospital," he said.

Irish Independent