Sunday 17 December 2017

Health Minister outlines his top priorities: A ten-year plan with cross party support, and dismantling the HSE

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo:
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Health Minister Simon Harris has said his main focus in his new post will be to set up a singular plan for the health service, which is based on cross party support.

In his first interview since becoming minister at the age of 29, making him the youngest minister in Government, he said he was “somewhat shocked” to have been given the post.

He said his top priorities as minister will include cross-party agreement on a ten-year programme for government, the roll-out of free GP care for under-12s, and the dismantling of the HSE.

“I genuinely do [want it], because I believe there is probably no department in which you can make a positive impact on people’s lives,” he told RTE's Morning Ireland.

“My first plan is to try and do something that has never been done before… setting up a special committee.”

“What we need now is a singular vision for the health service, a plan that regardless of whether you’re a Fianna Fáil deputy or a Fine Gael deputy or Sinn Fein deputy… that you can say this is where we want the health service to be over the next ten years. Here’s how we want to get there, and crucially, this is how much it’s going to cost.”

Mr Harris said the question of how much it will cost to run the health service over the next ten years is “almost an impossible question to answer”.

He said the committee will hear from witnesses, hear expert submissions, and report back directly to the Ceann Comhairle within six months.

“I will be moving a motion to establish a special committee in the Oireachtas to look at a singular vision for the health service over the next ten years.”

Mr Harris said the ten-year plan for health care from all political parties has never been done before, and will lead to a “political and societal consensus over the next ten years”.

He said the priority under the programme for government is to extend free GP care to all children under 18.

“We’ve started the roll-out of free GP care, we’ve started that with the under-6s, the over 70s, we’ll go to the under 12s later this year.”

“The crucial building block of that is going to be a new GP contract. I think the State needs to rebuild quite frankly it’s relationship with GPs. They are on the frontline of communities every day, there in need of a new contract.”

He said one of the reasons for long waiting lists in Irish hospitals is there is a need for reinvestment.

He said he intends to reactivate the national treatment purchase fund.

“My absolute priority is the public health service, not utilising the private health service, however when you have long waiting lists there is a merit in using the national treatment purchase fund to try and identify particularly difficult cases.”

“People are on waiting lists for an extraordinarily long time and they are in extraordinarily difficult pain.”

“I intend to reactive the NTPS this year, I intend to roll out a programme to begin address waiting lists this year, and I intend to address it in the Budget.”

He said he wants to make sure “people aren’t at a significant disadvantage if they’re reliant on the public health service.”

The HSE is “too bureaucratic”, he said, adding that there is benefit in “dissolving decision making to local powers and hospital groups.”

He said disbanding the HSE will encompass a journey which will “take some time”.

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