Health staff react to Budget 2019

Rise in spending welcomed but concerns remain
  • Deborah Condon

Doctors and nurses have welcomed the increase in healthcare spending announced in Budget 2019, however they have expressed concern that even with this increased spending, reform of the health services will not happen.

A total of €17 billion will be spent on healthcare next year, however, according to the Irish Medical Organisation, which represents doctors nationwide, Budget 2019 is a ‘missed opportunity'.

"In particular, Sláintecare has been allocated such a small amount of funds, that no significant reform can take place. We are also disappointed that in relation to the recommendations of the Health Capacity Review, there is no funding to improve and increase capacity in acute hospital beds in the coming year.

"It is not sustainable to continue to increase spending on private services through the NTPF, while at the same time starving public health services of vital funds," the organisation said.

The IMO also expressed concern about how GP services will cope with an extra 100,000 patients, who will be newly eligible for GP visit cards. It pointed out that many GP lists are already closed to new patients.

"What this budget means is that we are in stand-still position in respect of delivery. Our health services will continue to struggle with rising demand, complexity of illness, long waiting lists, while we cannot attract medical staff or have sufficient capacity in the system," it added.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) also said that Budget 2019 is ‘unlikely to address the serious capacity deficits that are delaying the provision of public hospital care to patients'.

IHCA President, Dr Donal O'Hanlon, pointed out that in addition to the hundreds of thousands of patients being treated on trolleys and those on waiting lists for essential surgery, ‘there is now a dangerous situation in our hospitals where patient appointments for surgery are being cancelled at short notice'.

"There are endless examples of public hospitals that have no choice but to ration care. This is down to capacity deficits, in particular relating to an insufficient number of acute and ICU beds, and vacant consultant posts. If these capacity deficits are not addressed without delay, this winter's hospital crisis will be much worse than other years," Dr O'Hanlon said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has criticised the Government's ‘inaction' in relation to the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives.

It said that the HSE has been unable to recruit and retain a sufficient number of staff, and has resorted to using expensive overseas recruiters and agency staff.

Recruitment of overseas staff costs over €10,000 per person hired, and by July, agency nurses and midwives had already cost over €50 million in 2018. This could be avoided with an across-the-board pay rise for nurses and midwives, but no provision has been made in this year's Budget," the INMO noted.

Meanwhile, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has welcomed the decision to reduce the prescription levy by 50c, to €1.50 per item, for people over the age of 70. However, it insisted that this levy should be removed altogether, particularly when it comes to vulnerable groups, such as homeless people and those in palliative care.

The IPU also welcomed the €10 fall in the Drugs Payment Scheme (DPS) threshold to €124 per month, but expressed disappointment that a more meaningful reduction was not announced.

 


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