Health sector has ’major structural problems’

Harsh criticism of failures by Department of Health and HSE to implement cost-saving measures and to begin long-term reforms

Minister for Health  James Reilly: The internal EU Commission paper makes a number of very critical assessments of the Irish health care sector. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Health James Reilly: The internal EU Commission paper makes a number of very critical assessments of the Irish health care sector. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 3, 2013, 12:04

The health sector poses one of the main risks to the successful consolidation of Ireland’s fiscal balance, according to an internal EU Commission paper reviewing Ireland’s implementation of the bailout programme.

The Government has announced a series of measures to contain costs in the provision of health services including an increase in prescription charge fees; an increase in the monthly drug cost threshold for households; reductions in professional fees; new lower-status medical cards and Croke Park Two savings.

However, the commission paper identifies many of the savings have been announced since 2012 but have yet failed to materialise.

“To control the 2013 budget implementation, the authorities have agreed to set up an improved dedicated monitoring system,” the paper says.

“The enhanced reporting requirements to the Cabinet Committee on Health and to the Troika (which will get monthly briefings) should allow early detection of any slippage and timely corrective action, if necessary...

“This is a first step in the right direction,” it states.

Indicating the degree of concern within the commission about Ireland’s health sector costs, the paper states it will continue to “monitor progress closely and on a regular basis.

The commission also expressed some impatience in relation to implementation of long-standing reform plans, particularly the introduction of a ‘unique patient identifier’, the full recovery of costs from treating private patients in public hospitals and the implementation of a money follows the patient principle.

Commission staff make a number of very critical assessments of the Irish health care sector, saying it “suffers from several complex structural problems”.

These include: “high prices for prescription medication, inefficient prescriber practices, high level of duplication in data processing and a lack of transparency and professionalism in financial management.”

Referrence is also made to a report which shows that only 10 per cent of HSE staff with financial management responsibilities were suitably qualified (compared to 25 per cent in the UK).