Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Delivering Universal Healthcare: Statements


3:10 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank all Deputies for their contributions. It has been a useful discussion around delivering on a goal that we all share in this House. The programme for Government set out the pathway for expanding universal access to healthcare in a manner that is fair and affordable. The Government has delivered and is continuing to deliver on that commitment. The final progress report on the Sláintecare implementation strategy and action plan shows that unprecedented progress has been made in transforming our health and social care services to provide the right care in the right place at the right time by the right team.

Since coming to office, the Government has delivered the highest level of investment in health and social care in the history of the State. There are more people working in our health service than ever before. If we go back to 2014, there were 103,000 people working in the HSE whereas the figure is now more than 145,000 whole-time equivalents. There has been the widest expansion in eligibility, with more than half of our population now entitled to a GP visit card, as well as reduced costs for patients through the abolition of inpatient hospital charges and through successive reductions in the drugs payment scheme threshold. We have seen significant investment in women’s health through the introduction of free contraception, free IVF testing and free STI testing. The public-only consultant contract has been signed by more than half of all consultants. There has been a reduction in waiting lists and waiting times, as well as expansion in primary care and community capacity, allowing more care to be delivered in the community or as close to home as possible. The restructuring of our health and social care service through the establishment of the HSE health regions will enable the provision of better and more integrated care along regional lines.

While much has been achieved, more remains to be done. I am completely focused on and committed to building on that progress. In the coming weeks, the Minister will bring the Sláintecare 2024 universal healthcare action plan to Government for its approval. The new action plan will aim to provide universal, accessible, affordable, person-centred, safe and quality health and social care for all the people of Ireland. It will deliver more timely access, higher-quality, lower-cost patient care and better health outcomes in partnership with the people who use our services. We will do this by increasing capacity, improving productivity and delivering more efficient and integrated care.

There will be a combination of existing and new programmes and projects. These will include the following: continuing to provide more care in the community through the enhanced community care programme and ongoing investment in community and primary care; implementing the waiting list action plan and continuing to target reductions in waiting lists and waiting times to meet the maximum Sláintecare target times; tackling overcrowding at our emergency departments through the urgent and emergency care plan; and continuing the foundational restructuring of our health service along regional lines.

Over the course of 2024 and 2025, we will review the existing eligibility framework to clearly assess what is working well and to inform policy proposals to enhance eligibility and access to services based on robust evidence. This is an important step towards delivering on universal healthcare in Ireland. The plan will ensure that we can build a sustainable health and social care workforce to meet future population needs for health services. We will also implement our new digital health strategy, Digital for Care - a Digital Health Framework for Ireland, including the roll-out this year of our new digital app. We will remove private care from public hospitals, including through the ongoing roll-out of the public-only consultant contract to ensure increased public-only activity in public hospitals. We will implement the national elective ambulatory strategy through the development of elective hospitals and surgical hubs. The first two of these hubs will open this year in Dublin, with four more to open next year. We will also progress design and planning for the four elective hospitals, with two in Dublin, one in Cork and one in Galway.

We will focus on prevention and public health, supporting people to live well with and without disease by choosing healthy behaviours. This will ensure that our services are safe and high quality. We will invest further in women’s health, older persons' services and mental health. We will listen to people and ensure that the patient voice is heard and that patients are involved in service design and delivery. We will focus on improving productivity, efficiency and performance across the health service. We will build on the success of the Sláintecare integration innovation fund by embedding a culture of innovation within our health service. In dealing with all of this, it is important to note that life expectancy in Ireland is one of the highest across Europe. We need to ensure we make further progress in that area.

The new action plan will be ambitious and targeted. If implemented successfully, I believe it will be transformational.

It will demonstrate my absolute commitment, and that of the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, and Government colleagues, to delivering our promise to deliver universal healthcare for the people of Ireland. I look forward to sharing the plan in more detail with Deputies when it is published.


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