Thursday 22 August 2019

'A universal health system isn't doable in one government or another' - Health minister Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar with James Reilly (right)
Health Minister Leo Varadkar with James Reilly (right)

David Kearns

It will take at least two more terms of the current government to end Ireland’s two-tier health system, says Health minister Leo Varadkar.

“Getting to the point were we’ve a universal system isn’t doable in one government, or another.

“What we can do over the period of the next Government is to put in place all the building blocks needed to bring the vision we all have forward.”

Read More: Varadkar to axe universal health insurance plan with €2k premiums

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Varadkar said he had a timeframe in mind for the introduction of universal healthcare but refused to give any details when pushed for a particular date.

“No one is disputing that universal healthcare would work; patient evidence shows that countries’ with these systems tend to have better outcomes.

“It’s like saying what research is there for showing that giving universal education to children results in better results. Of course it does.

Read More: Government's health insurance model is a textbook case of flawed policy making

“But a lot of the building blocks needed for universal healthcare aren’t in place here.

“We need greater capacity for example – if we don’t have enough dermatologists no system is going to work.

“If we brought in a universal system tomorrow, we’d just have everyone on a waiting list, a shorter one maybe but still a waiting list.”

Mr Varadkar said work too needed to be done to develop "a modern health infrastructure before universal health care could become a reality".

Read More: UHI as promised at election is 'not affordable now or ever'

"What we can do promise to do is to continue to make more steps towards GP care without fees, to expand the amount of chronic disease that's managed in primary care,” he said.

"We can promise to ensure that access to a nursing home is demand led. We can also promise to expand what we're doing in our hospitals and we will continue the financial reforms."

The minister was responding to analysis by the ESRI, which shows that the government’s current plan to fund universal healthcare model could cost the state up to €2bn a year to run or each Irish families health premiums upwards of €2,500.

Read More: Micheal Martin: Entire government should resign after abandoning Universal Health Insurance (UHI) plans

“The government remains committed to universal healthcare and what this means is access to effective quality healthcare that is affordable to everyone in a timing way.

“And we remain committed to using Universal Health Insurance as the funding mechanise to achieve that.

“But what we are saying is that the particular model we asked the ESRI to study is not affordable now or ever because it would require very expensive premiums for families or governmental subsidises we can’t afford.”

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