Government ‘bit off more than we could chew’, says Varadkar

Health minister sets out vision of universal GP care followed by universal primary care

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said his priorities for his time in office will be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said his priorities for his time in office will be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 07:56

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said the Government “bit off more than we could chew” when taking power, specifically referring to how quickly universal healthcare could be introduced.

In discussing his vision for the Irish health service, Mr Varadkar said his priorities for his time in office would be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments.

However, he said that bringing about any changes in the current structures involves dialogue and negotiation and cautioned against moving too quickly.

“I do think that probably when we came into office as a Government we bit off more than we could chew. We have tried to bring in universal healthcare in too short a timeframe,” he said in an interview on last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne show.

Last month, under plans brought to Cabinet by the Minister for Health, the Government said it had agreed to provide free GP cards for all children over the next three years, as well as to those over the age of 70.

If this was an early sign of Mr Varadkar’s intentions to affect change, he expanded on his philosophy last night.

“I am somebody who very much believes in universal healthcare. I think everyone should have access to health services in the same way people do in almost every western country,” he said.

“Health is a universal right. It’s like education, for example. It’s like pensions when you retire; the whole idea is you pay your taxes and you benefit and that’s how we do a lot of things. We don’t do health like that in Ireland. ”

Mr Varadkar also outlined other issues on his radar, saying more could be done to reduce the price of medicines, while health insurance could be expanded to more of those in their twenties and thirties with the incentive of discounted packages.

“I totally understand that if we are going to make universal GP care and universal primary care work that is going to involve resources and those discussions need to be had. At the same time though, governments can’t write blank cheques and we can’t give vetoes to any section of the health service.”

As a trained GP, Mr Varadkar said he understood the mood of doctors and said in the health profession generally, more needed to be done to lift morale and to retain home produced doctors and nurses.