Minister slams Budget 'kite-flying'
Junior Health Minister Roisin Shortall has hit out at 'kite flying' about possible Budget health cutbacks, which she says has been causing a lot of unnecessary alarm, particularly among older people.
There has been intense speculation in the media over the past week about possible health measures in the Budget, including a quadrupling of the 50 cent medical card prescription charge, a new €50 yearly charge for medical cards and downgrading some people's full medical cards to GP visit cards.
Minister Shortall, asked if she was concerned about this Budget 'kite-flying', told irishhealth.com: "I am concerned about some of the stuff that has made its way into the media in the past week. I think it has caused a lot of alarm and concern among older people in particular, people who very much depend on their medical cards, and I think it is unfortunate that it has happened."
Minister Shortall, who was interviewed after addressing an Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) conference in Athlone this weekend, said the Government was still working towards phasing in free GP care for all, starting with free GP treatment for Long Term Illness Scheme patients from next March.
It has also been speculated over the past week that this measure, announced just over a week ago by Minister Shortall, may now be deferred as one of the possible health cutbacks in the Budget.
Minster Shortall, who is the minister responsible for primary care, told irishhealth.com that while no final decisions have been taken on the Budget at this point, she was hopeful that funding would be available to enable the Government to start phasing in free GP care, starting with long-term illness patients, from next March.
"Obviously, in a situation where the Government is absolutely committed to improving access to primary care, it really wouldn't make sense for us to introduce other measures which would be contrary to that objective."
She said some of the measures which had been 'floated' in recent days, such as reducing the number of fuill medical cards and downgrading them to doctor visit cards, 'would be very much contrary to what it is we are trying to achieve in relation to opening up access to primary care.'
Minister Shortall said there were a lot of kites being flown at the moment by a number of different sources, but this would comento annend very quickly when the Budget measures were announced next week.
Health Minister James Reilly gave details of health cuts and charges under consideration by the Government to Fine Gael and Labour TDs and Senators last Tuesday. Minister Shortall is reported to have attended Dr Reilly's briefing to the Labour TDs and Senators.
Asked if she had raised her concerns about the Budget 'leaks' with Dr Reilly, Minster Shortall said: "I think it has caused a lot of worry and upset and that is unfortunate."
Minister Shortall said it was still the Government's plan to extend GP care to the whole population over the next four years, followed by the introduction of universal health insurance, which will cover hospital care for the whole population.
She said a separate primary care fund would be established to pay for the reforms planned and this would be funded by the Exchequer at least in the medium term.
The Minister said it was possible that some of the funding for GP care would eventually come through the new universal health insurance system, which would be fully introduced during a second term of Government.
She stressed that the Government was committed to introducing free GP care for all by 2015. Next year, it was planned that long-term illness patients would get free GP treatment, followed in 2013 by those on the high-tech medicines scheme.
It was planned that subsidised GP care for the whole population-the exact State subsidy level has yet to be worked out-would be introduced in 2014, followed by free GP care for all in 2015.
Asked if the money was available to fund all of this, Minister Shortall said while no final decisions had been taken on the budgetary situation 'we have certainly been working toward ensuring that this will be provided.'
The Minister said the Government was planning a major transfer of treatment from hospitals to primary and community care, whereby 90% of healthcare activity would eventually take place at local community level.
"There is far too much emphasis on the more expensive end of acute care and we are absolutely determined to implement the kind of reforms that will result in excess of 90% of activity taking place at local level."
Minister Shortall said she had commissioned a study to determine what will be required in terms of additional GPs and practice nurses.
In addition, entry restrictions for GPs seeking to get into the medical card scheme were being lifted, and a 'fast-track' training system to allow more newly qualified GPs to come on stream was also planned.
She told the ICGP winter meeting that Ireland had one of the lowest number of GPs per head of population among OECD countries.
It was planned to allocate €50 million each year over the next five years to facilitate the formation of more primary care teams teams to treat people in the community and new centres for these teams to work in.
She also told the meeting that a major new diabetes care programme would be launched next year, in which more diabetes patients would be treated in GP practices. This would be facilitated by the introduction of free GP care for those on the long-term illness scheme.
Similar programmes would also be introduced in areas like asthma, heart disease and mental health under the reforms planned, the Minister said.
[Posted: Sun 27/11/2011]