Reilly 'not sure' how Coalition will fund free GP care for all
NEW Health Minister James Reilly admits he does not know where the Government will find the money to introduce free GP care for the entire country.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Dr Reilly said, however, that the promise of free GP care by 2016, contained in the Programme for Government, would be delivered.
In the Labour Party pre-election manifesto, the same ambitious proposal was put forward, to be delivered by 2014 at a cost of €389m.
"The absolute method of funding it has yet to be worked out," Dr Reilly admitted.
For the plan to succeed, the minister, a former president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), will have to push through radical new measures that will prove unpopular with his former GP colleagues.
The IMO has already expressed alarm at the plan, which will outlaw private patient income and see GPs receive a reduced fee for each registered patient.
Dr Reilly also confirmed that the introduction of compulsory universal healthcare insurance, which would give everyone equal access to hospital care, could only begin to be "phased in" by 2016 and would take the lifetime of the next Government to roll out.
The minister, who was giving his first interview since taking office last week, would not commit to the Labour Party proposal to fund GP care from the Exchequer through specific avenues, including cutting consultants' pay by €75m.
Prior to the election, the Fine Gael deputy leader said the 2014 deadline set by the Labour Party for free GP care was unaffordable.
Labour also promised that compulsory health insurance for all would be fully in place by 2016.
Dr Reilly insisted yesterday that the building blocks for health insurance covering hospitals would first have to be put in place during this term of government, including the setting up of a purchase agency, the splitting up of the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the slashing of waiting lists.
Although it was one of his "priorities", he also could not give any detail on what progress had been made in setting up the special delivery unit to reduce hospital waiting lists, adding he wished to have it under control within three years.
While in opposition, Dr Reilly castigated previous Health Minister Mary Harney for failing to open beds when trolley numbers soared to more than 500 in early January.
However, yesterday -- despite there being 446 people on trolleys around the country -- he refused to say whether he would order the opening of closed wards.
The minister said he planned to tender to get 30 to 40 beds in nursing homes around various urban centres so people could leave hospital as soon as their treatment was over.
And he repeated the pre-election promise to abolish the 50c prescription charge for medical card holders -- but could not say when he would cut off this €2m-a-month source of funding for the HSE.