The Department of Health will have a budget of almost €15.3 billion next year, however doctors have described Budget 2018 as ‘deeply disappointing and regressive' from a health perspective.
According to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the health budget for next year will not be able to keep pace with health demands ‘and the various crises afflicting the health services will worsen'.
"The reality is that our spending on public health services has not kept pace with either rising demands or the increase in population of our patients over 65. What we now know as a crisis in our health services will become the new norm and we still wait for our Government to make meaningful investment," commented IMO president, Dr Ann Hogan.
She insisted that as a result of Budget 2018, waiting lists will lengthen, the number of patients treated on trolleys will increase, GP services will be even more overwhelmed and doctors will continue to emigrate.
However, the Department of Health insisted that Budget 2018 will result in additional frontline staff. It said that funding is being targeted at a number of key areas, including the expansion and development of mental health services, a shift to primary care and improved disability services.
An additional €40 million fund will also be provided in 2017 ‘to prepare for and manage the expected peak in demand for our health services over the winter period'.
"Reducing waiting times for patients and improving access to our health services is one of my key priorities. Budget 2018 will increase investment in the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) from its original allocation of €20m in 2017 to €55m in 2018.
"This significant increase in funding will mean that over 18,000 additional procedures will be offered to patients next year across a range of specialties and procedures," explained the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.
However, the IMO has criticised this increased allocation of what it believes are scarce resources ‘into what is essentially the private sector at the expense of increasing resources for public hospitals'.
"At best, the NTPF is a sticking plaster solution, but at worse it is undermining any investment in our public services where elective surgery is cancelled on an increasingly regular basis due to overcrowding in our hospitals," Dr Hogan said.
Meanwhile, pharmacists have welcomed a reduction in the prescription levy for all medical card holders under the age of 70, from €2.50 per item to €2.
However, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) expressed its disappointment that the levy was not abolished for particularly vulnerable groups such as homeless people.
The IPU also welcomed a reduction in the Drug Payment Scheme (DPS) monthly threshold from €144 to €134, however it said it was disappointed that a bigger reduction had not been announced.
"The reduction in the DPS threshold is a step in the right direction in assisting hard-pressed families in covering the cost for their medicines. Much more should be done to reduce the threshold further over the next number of budgets," commented IPU president, Daragh Connolly.
Other key points of Budget 2018 included a €5 per week increase in all social welfare payments, including the State Pension, Carers Allowance and Disability Allowance.
The price of a packet of cigarettes has been increased by 50c. And from April 2018, there will be a tax of 30c per litre on drinks containing over 8g of sugar per 100ml, and a tax of 20c per litre on drinks containing between 5g and 8g of sugar per 100ml.
Budget 2018 also increased the VAT rate on sunbed services from 13.5% to 23%.
Announcing the Budget, the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donoghue, said his aim was to rebalance the economy, improve people's lives and make sensible long-term investments.