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Is Leo's honesty the best policy for universal care?

LEO Varadkar is certainly stirring things up just a few weeks into the job as Minister for Health.

His pronouncement that universal health insurance (UHI) is not likely to be rolled out any time soon was certainly not an expected announcement on a sleepy post Bank Holiday Tuesday.

It will be interesting to see what his cabinet colleagues think of his honesty, and that's what his comments are in this case - refreshingly honest.

For some time now there has been growing doubt that UHI would be introduced by the Government's already extended 2019 deadline.

The Government has missed every single step towards this major shift in how our health service is run, most obviously though the continuing lack of free GP care for any extra group as yet.

But still, Varadkar's predecessor Dr James Reilly insisted that things were on track for 2019.

However Varadkar (below) has now acknowledged that no, the 2019 UHI plan is too ambitious and will be delayed.

"Personally I think we need to get universal GP and primary care right and show people that it works before trying to bring UHI into the hospital system," Varadkar said.

"That's why I think the original timetable to have UHI in place by 2019 is too ambitious."


To be fair, it's hard to argue with that. Varadkar has promised that he will concentrate on rolling out free GP care for all as a priority, which is good news given that it has been a disaster to date.

He has plenty of work ahead to sort it out and getting it right will be key to his success in his new post.

What is most interesting in this new development is Varadkar's choice of words in referring to universal healthcare, and downplaying universal healthcare insurance.

The Government's choice of a UHI system has created large-scale fears about the affordability of such an option in Ireland.

We've now seen countries with previously much lauded UHI systems running into serious cost issues.

So it looks likely that as well as being delayed we could get a different model to what was announced previously.

In addition Varadkar has strongly laid out his stall in relation to wanting a realistic budget for the health service in 2015, as this year the HSE will have a budget overrun of up to €500m.

Minister Varadkar has inherited a broken health system.

Staff morale is at an all time low and we are in the midst of a severe and very worrying medical brain drain.

The health service has seen €4bn in cuts and savings since the recession hit.


Varadkar is right to prioritise sorting out the current issues before attempting to introduce universal healthcare, which would represent the biggest change to our health service since its very foundation.

Of course some cynics might wonder will universal healthcare ever happen and will it be quietly dropped like Mary Harney's infamous co-location plan?

The Opposition are certainly in favour of that happening.

But whatever happens, addressing the current issues in the health service should certainly be the priority right now.