McGrath defends Coalition commitment to Sláintecare

Government focus remains on bed capacity and health staff recruitment, says Minister

The Minister noted the ‘16,000 additional health professionals from the level we had pre Covid to the position at the end of this year and over 10,000 of those have been recruited’. File photograph: Getty

The Minister noted the ‘16,000 additional health professionals from the level we had pre Covid to the position at the end of this year and over 10,000 of those have been recruited’. File photograph: Getty

 

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath has defended the Government’s commitment to Sláintecare and said he has not witnessed any institutional opposition to moving the healthcare system to a more regionally based model.

Mr McGrath said that great credit must be given to the Health Service Executive under boss Paul Reid and the Department of Health under its Minister, Stephen Donnelly, in continuing to progress some of the reforms proposed under Sláintecare while combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think we have to be fair to the HSE here – they have been grappling with a global pandemic for the last 18 months and I think they have made real progress in putting in place some of the key building blocks for Sláintecare and that is adding capacity,” he said.

“In the budget last year, I provided Minister Donnelly with an extra €1.25 billion specifically for new measures to do new things in the public health service in particular with a focus on adding bed capacity both in critical care and in the acute hospital system.

“That work is ongoing and a lot of progress has been made and also sanction was given for the recruitment of over 16,000 additional health professionals from the level we had pre Covid to the position at the end of this year and over 10,000 of those have been recruited.”

Mr McGrath was commenting in the wake of the resignation last week of both Sláintecare executive director Laura Magahy and chairman of the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Committee, Prof Tom Keane, from the body set up to introduce the 10-year healthcare plan.

Prof Keane said in a letter to the Department of Health, explaining his resignation, that “sadly, I have come to conclude that the requirements for implementing this unprecedented programme for change are seriously lacking”.

But Mr McGrath acknowledged the Government was “someway short of where we thought we would be” but he said that Covid has had an impact even though both the Government and the various health agencies including the HSE are committed to delivering Sláintecare.

“For me those are the fundamental foundations of Sláintecare, adding capacity to the public health system and gradually withdrawing the private healthcare from the public hospital system and ensuring that we have universal access and that is what we are working towards.”

Opposition to Sláintecare downplayed

Asked if he believed there was any institutional opposition towards a more regionally based healthcare system amid concerns that a centralised structure was better suited to combating a pandemic like Covid-19, Mr McGrath downplayed suggestions of any opposition to Sláintecare.

“I have not got that sense at all [institutional opposition to moving away from a centralised system] and I have attended every one of the Cabinet committee meetings we have held on health issues over the last 14 months or so in Government,” he said.

“From where I sit, I see total commitment from across Government and our agencies, especially the HSE as the lead body here to the implementation of Sláintecare and I’m confident that building on the additional public investment that we have made, we can make real progress.”

Mr McGrath said that the Government was committed to improving access to healthcare for everyone and to addressing the deficit in bed capacity which predated Covid-19 and building up bed numbers which is critical to the whole reform process.

“We are now in the process of fixing that by increasing the number of beds right through the system and that work is ongoing and I think Paul Reid and the team at the HSE and Stephen Donnelly and his colleagues in the department are doing a great job in really difficult circumstances.”

Mr Reid told RTÉ on Sunday that the first that he became aware of Ms Magahy’s and Prof Keane’s unhappiness with the rate of implementation was when they resigned last week, but he said he shared their frustration.

“There is no doubt if you take the past 18 months I am sure their frustration was and would be – as it is ours – that we could have got to some of the aspects they would have liked us to get to,” Mr Reid told RTÉ’s This Week programme.

“We are fully committed to all aspects of Sláintecare including regionalisation, including integration and specifically addressing the waiting lists. There is nobody [that] wants to get into this change [of] agenda more than ourselves and our teams in the HSE,” he added.