The largest health budget in the history of the State next year will see free GP care extended to more than half the population and hospital inpatient charges abolished for all public patients.
Over €400 million will be spent trying to reduce waiting lists and 6,000 additional staff are being recruited.
An additional €1.15 billion in core funding is being provided for health next year, similar to the increases in the last two budgets, along with €757 million in continuing Covid-19 costs and €117 million for infrastructure projects. The total allocation is €23.4 billion.
Hospital inpatient charges for all public patients will be abolished in 2023; they were removed for children last week. The charge is €80 a night, capped to a maximum of 10 nights, so this change will save some patients up to €800 a year.
The Irish Cancer Society, reflecting patient sentiment generally, hailed the removal of the charges as “momentous”.
An additional 650 acute and community beds are promised by the end of next year, and funding is being provided to recruit 6,000 more staff. Last year’s budget promised over 8,000 extra staff, but it quickly became apparent the HSE was not able to grow its workforce at the rate at which funding was available.
A further €225 million is being provided for initiatives to tackle waiting lists next year, bringing the overall waiting list package to €443 million. About €240 million will be spent through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which uses public and private health providers, with the rest allocated to the HSE in the public health system.
Some of this money is expected to be spent on initiatives to improve clinical pathways in gynaecology, and obesity and bariatric medicine.
This year’s investment of €350 million has failed to make any dent on long waiting lists for inpatient procedures and outpatients appointments, although delays in providing endoscopies have been reduced.
Long waiting times for dental treatment are being tackled through a €5 million increase in annual funding, as well as a €9 million once-off provision to address current backlogs.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said free GP care will be extended to more than 400,000 people “with implementation of the commitment to extend to six and seven-year-olds in Q4 2022 and extension to those on or below the median income (€46,000)”.
Just two weeks after the Government introduced free contraception to women aged 17 to 25, it has promised to extend this measure to the 16 to 30 age-group.
For the first time IVF “supports” will be funded by the State, though Mr McGrath did not provide details of these in his speech.
The Minister also announced funding of €29 million for additional respite, day service and residential places in disability, and €18 million to support older people living at home, the national dementia strategy and new safeguarding policies. An additional €14 million is being allocated to emergency placements in mental health.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to burden the health service, with €439 million allocated next year for personal protective equipment, testing and tracing and vaccinations.
The HSE is expected to run up to €1 billion over budget by the end of this year, in large part due to spending overruns related to the pandemic.
Further details of the Budget 2023 health measures will be announced by the Department of Health on Wednesday.