THERE will be no quick fix to ailing health services, Fine Gael warned yesterday.
Voters anxious for immediate improvements will be left disappointed by the party's plan to transform the way our health services are operated.
Fine Gael -- certain to lead the next government -- instead delivered a "stick with us" message to voters.
"When Fine Gael is in government, after five years you will see a major sea change and people will see we are very much along the road where we want to go," said Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly.
"But I want to be politically mature and not make promises I can't keep."
Much of the success of its 'Faircare' plan is based on achieving internal savings and efficiencies -- but, based on past experience in the health service, this can be a notoriously fickle way of generating funding.
The plan is also vague on detail about how the party would cost universal healthcare insurance.
The introduction of compulsory health insurance, which will begin with hospital care in 2016, is dependent on the abolition of the Health Service Executive (HSE) -- yielding savings of €500m.
Dr Reilly said it would not be financially possible to introduce free GP care for all by 2014, as promised by Labour.
Fine Gael will first introduce universal health insurance for hospital care, which will be funded by the existing health budget, private premiums and the abolition of the HSE.
By 2014, the health service has to make savings of €1.1bn, which will go directly to the Exchequer to help cut the national deficit. It will set aside an extra €115m, funded from savings in other parts of the health service, and redistribute it to improve information technology, mental health, long-term care and childcare.
Future savings factored in include €60m from reducing the cost of hospital consultant care, €185 in cutting the drugs' bill, and €480m in headcount savings, with the departure of 8,000 staff through natural wastage or redundancy.
It plans to set aside €150m annually -- gleaned from savings outside the health service -- to fund its primary care strategy, which will see more services for the public made available outside of hospitals.
By 2014, it will set aside an extra €35m yearly to support mental health improvements.
Fine Gael hopes to save €80m by paying hospitals per procedure, rather than giving them a block grant.
When asked what kind of improvements patients can expect, Dr Reilly said in the first year the government would extend the cervical cancer vaccine to all secondary school girls. He also vowed to tackle the trolley crisis in overcrowded A&E departments.
"Within three months we will plan for predictable surge in A&E activity. There will not be over 590 people on trolleys again," he said. "In two to three years, we will have addressed waiting lists."
Children's spokesman Charlie Flanagan said the next government would create a Child Welfare and Protection Agency that would exclusively deliver services to children in care and those in need of support.
Childcare will get an extra €10m in funding by 2014.
He said reform of this area could be made within 18 months and that no social worker would be allowed to work unsupervised in child protection without a minimum of two years' experience.