Free GP care included in health proposals


Detailed plans for the future of the health service, which will see free GP care for all introduced in 2015 to be followed by the promised universal health insurance scheme, were announced yesterday. The plans set out target times for implementing 48 reforms, culminating in the introduction of universal health insurance in 2016.

While many of the elements of the Future Health document published by Minister for Health James Reilly yesterday are in the programme for government, he pointed out concrete timeframes were being provided for the first time.

The plans will see a new patient safety agency next year and a health and wellbeing agency in 2015. BreastCheck cancer screening will be extended to 65-69 year-old women in 2014, while the first round of the colorectal cancer screening programme for men/women of this age group will have been completed by the end of 2015.

The document anticipates the controversial reorganisation of services by hospital groups, although the Minister indicated this would be done on a trial basis at first.

Financial reforms

A series of financial reforms will see control of health spending return from the HSE to the Department of Health in 2014 and the introduction of new financial management systems aimed at controlling costs. The HSE is currently €400 million over budget. Dr Reilly said he wanted to see “aggressive” cost control in the health insurance market with payments being made per medical procedure rather than based on the number of nights a patient spends in hospital.

The department will develop policy in relation to the introduction of financial contributions and charges for certain social and continuing care services for older people and the disabled. No detail was provided of these charges, to be introduced by 2015. As a first phase toward free GP care, free GP cards are to be provided to people with long-term illnesses by the middle of next year, Minister of State Alex White indicated, 15 months after it was promised in the programme for government.Legislation would give the Minister the power to decide which conditions would qualify under the scheme, it was indicated. However, negotiations on this change have yet to take place with the Irish Medical Organisation, which is likely to seek compensation.