HEALTH is the other area where major progress needs to be made to make up for lost time, given the way this vital public service went during the lifetime of the last government, with two ministers – ironically both medical doctors – failing to get to grips with the inability of the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive between them to deliver healthcare in a timely fashion and within budget.
Keeping to budget will be of huge importance from this year onwards as the safety net of a supplementary estimate bail-out is no longer allowed under EU regulations, so if there is a funding shortfall in health, other areas will have to suffer expenditure cuts to make it up. Apart from some progress on primary care centres and the introduction of free GP care for our youngest and oldest citizens, the last government failed to deliver on its big ticket universal healthcare insurance promise and there was no sustainable reduction in the number of people on trollies in Emergency Departments or any significant progress in getting through waiting lists for medical tests and procedures.
The new Minister for Health, Simon Harris, may only be 29 years old, but he seems to have a wise head on him and it was great to hear him, immediately on taking up office last weekend, advocating the preparation of a ten-year plan – in consultation with all the political parties and relevant stakeholders – to tackle the problems in the public health service. At the heart of it must be the prioritisation of healthcare provision on medical need – not ability to pay – and vested interests in the private sector must not be allowed to dictate policy.