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Harris Refuses To Outline Cost Of Major Health Service Reform

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The Minister for Health is playing his cards close to his chest on the cost of the Sláintecare ten-year-plan for the reform of the health service.

The Oireachtas Future of Healthcare Committee secured all-party agreement for the plan in May of last year.

At the time, the Government said the plan would require two major investment packages, totally nearing €6bn.

Reform of care at community and hospital level was estimated at €2.8bn over a ten-year period, while a €3bn transition fund was earmarked to address the chronic under-investment in health care over the austerity years.

Announcing the Government's plans for implementing the strategy this afternoon, Health Minister Simon Harris refused to be drawn on the overall cost to the taxpayer.

"There is one crucial reason I am not putting a global figure out here today and saying, 'this is the Sláintecare figure, come and get your slice of it in contract negotiations,'" he said.

"This will require significant contractual negotiation with many stakeholders in the health service.

"It will in some instances require procurement and tendering and out of a duty of care for the taxpayer, there is obviously a process to go through there."

The plan aims radically transform the health service and establish a universal, single-tiered service - delivered on medical need and not on ability to pay.

Aiming to move services away from the acute hospital sector towards primary and social care, the plan recommended free GP care for all, a phasing out of private healthcare within public hospitals and cuts to the cost of medication for patients. 

The ambitious strategy also aims to re-shape the HSE to make it more accountable to the public - while reducing waiting list times, tackle hospital overcrowding, improve technology in healthcare and reform GP contracts.

"This is about reforming our health service to ensure that there is equality of access and that people can access on the basis of their need and not on their ability to pay," Minister Harris said this morning.

He said the implementation strategy "provides the framework within which a system-wide reform programme will be advanced."

TD Róisín Shortall, who chaired the committee that produced the report, said the key question facing the Government now is implementation and " ensuring that funding will be made available."

"The test of that will be in October's budget," she said. "We will at that point know whether the Government is actually serious about implementing this reform programme or not."


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