Taoiseach & Varadkar launch €2bn Fine Gael Plan for Health

An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar have today launched Fine Gael’s Plan for Health for the next government, which is built on the four pillars of Healthy Ireland, Building Capacity, Universal Healthcare, and Health Service Reform.

An Taoiseach said: “Fine Gael has a plan to continue rebuilding our health service. The plan requires both further investment and further reform. It’s only by keeping the recovery going and the economy strong that we’ll be able to generate the revenue that we need to invest in public services like health and ensure that patients are always the absolute priority.”

Minister Varadkar said: “The plan allocates €2 billion extra to health over the lifetime of the next government. It sets realistic targets for incremental improvements in our public health service, investing in new infrastructure, technology and hiring 4,400 new frontline staff, taking at least one big step every year towards Universal Healthcare, and formally setting up Hospital Trusts and Community Healthcare Trusts. In the last five years we showed that even in tough times, real progress could be made in key areas. We intend to build on that over the next five years. Economic recovery isn’t only more jobs and more money in our pockets, it’s also about better public services and we have a plan to do that in health.”

Highlights include:
•    Extending free GP care to all children
•    New programmes to manage common chronic diseases in the community
•    A full medical card for all children on Domiciliary Care Allowance
•    A dedicated fund of €50 million a year to reduce waiting lists
•    Measuring and improving patient experience times in Emergency Departments
•    A tax on sugar sweetened drinks
•    Further measures to reduce smoking
•    Implementing Healthy Ireland initiatives to improve the nation’s health
•    Investing at least a further €750 million in primary care
•    A detailed five year budget for the health service will be set out in 2017
•    100 extra GP training places
•    Providing faster access to mental health services
•    Continued increase in acute hospital beds
•    A new programme to help more people with disabilities to work
•    A new dental benefits package
•    Dismantling the HSE and establishing Hospital Trusts and Community Healthcare Trusts on a statutory basis

Minister Varadkar said: “The Government has allocated €3 billion to the capital budget for health for the next six years allowing us to proceed with major flagship projects like the new national children’s hospital, primary care centres all over the country, an ambitious programme to replace or upgrade community nursing units to comply with HIQA standards, and much-needed investment in IT.

“Fine Gael inherited a health service in freefall – funding cuts of €2 billion, thousands of staff gone, and 1,245 hospital beds closed. Because of the economic recovery in the last two years, we have been able to start rebuilding the health service. We have increased the budget by €900 million in the last two years, excluding supplementaries. That is a €300 million increase this year, on top of a €600 million increase last year. We reversed the previous Government’s policy of cutting 1,245 beds by adding 300 new beds in the last 12 months.
“We have taken on more staff, including record numbers of consultants, doctors, midwives and therapists. We have taken the first steps towards Universal Healthcare by introducing free GP for the youngest and oldest in our society – those who need to see their doctor the most. We have improved the management of asthma and diabetes in general practice, and invested in new services ranging from the Air Ambulance, to improvements in stroke, cancer care, heart attack, and funded new medicines and technologies for patients with diseases like cystic fibrosis and hepatitis C.”

The four pillars of the Fine Gael Plan for Health
Healthy Ireland
We need to improve our health as a society and as individuals. It’s the only way in the long term that we can reduce the burden of disease, ensure that people live longer and healthier lives, and control the cost of healthcare. Healthy Ireland is the Government-led initiative to enable people to make the right decisions about their own health. This includes further actions to reduce smoking, cut back on alcohol consumption and binge drinking, tackle obesity, implement the National Physical Activity Plan, extend the vaccination programme to include Meningitis B and the rotavirus, and extend screening programmes where evidence-based and cost-effective. Among the newest measures will be a tax on sugar sweetened drinks.

Building health service capacity
Fine Gael is committing to increase the health budget by an average of €400 million a year, which means the health budget in 2021 will be at least €2 billion higher than it is now. Budget 2017 will set out a detailed five year budget for the health service, providing financial certainty and allowing for better planning and long term decision making. We will hire 4,400 frontline staff including 600 consultants, dentists and specialists, 2,800 nurses and midwives, and 1,000 health and social care professionals (physiotherapists, occupational therapists, paramedics and radiographers). We will increase the number of GP training places by around 100 over the next five years. We will provide a dedicated fund of €50 million a year to reduce waiting lists. We will conduct a full hospital bed capacity review to be completed by 2017 to provide a strong evidence base from which to plan for increasing bed capacity in the context of the capital review in 2018.

We will improve patient experience in our emergency departments by ensuring that between 93% and 95% of patients spend no longer than six hours in an ED from the time they check in at reception, to the point at which they are discharged. Currently 68% of patients spend less than six hours in an ED. We will improve this by 5% a year and publish the figures on a monthly basis.

The next steps to Universal Healthcare

We will take at least one big step every year towards UHC. The first big step was taken last year with free GP care for the under sixes and over 70s. This shall include but will not be limited to: free GP for the under-12s, the remaining under-18s, comprehensive management of chronic disease in general practice, reduced prescription charges for medical card holders and everyone else, and a dental and oral health package. We will target the most common chronic diseases such as diabetes, COPD and heart failure with a view to managing them in the community rather than hospitals, where clinically appropriate. The dental package will include the restoration of PRSI-related dental benefits which were scrapped by the last government, including a children’s dental health programme, and a preventative oral health package for medical card holders. We will extend full medical cards for all children in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance who don’t already have one. We will expand the role of community pharmacy.

Reforming the health service
We will complete the break-up of the HSE by establishing the hospital trusts and community healthcare trusts on a statutory basis, with their executives reporting to their own boards. The HSE will evolve into a Health Commission with specific national functions including shared services and the National Clinical Programmes, the National Ambulance Service, HSE Estates and Health & Wellbeing. We will complete the major financial reforms already underway including Activity Based Funding.

Other priorities
The public health service will be funded from taxation – as it is now – for the duration of the next government. However, further research will be conducted on other funding models and the ESRI will conclude its research into the various forms of Universal Health Insurance. We will publish a plan for faster access to comprehensive mental health services and improved mental health status, building on A Vision for Change. The Departments of Health and Social Protection will pursue a “Fit for Work Programme” to support more people to get back to work if they have an illness or disability. We will legislate for family consent and an opt-out register for organ donation, and establish an expert group to report within six months on a better way to deal with compensation claims for catastrophic injuries. We will set up an independent Patient Advocacy Service, legislate to support Open Disclosure and expand the role of HIQA to include the licensing of hospitals.

Note: the €2 billion allocation excludes pay restoration or pay increases which are negotiated centrally for the public service as a whole.

Date: 15. 2. 2016