Harris says Sláintecare has ‘come alive’ in recent weeks
Minister for Health rejects claims Government has allotted only €20m to scheme in 2019
Minister for Health Simon Harris TD: ‘We have a lot to do. It is a 10-year plan.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Minister for Health Simon Harris has defended the Government’s commitment to adopting Sláintecare, contending the plan has “come alive” in recent weeks.
Mr Harris also rejected a claim the Government has allotted only €20 million in 2019 to the ambitious blueprint to change the health services from a two-tier, public-private, service to a single-tier service over 10 years.
“Over €200 million will be spent on Sláintecare this year arising from announcements in the Budget. So much of what we are doing is in capital (spending) in terms of building elective-only hospitals and building primary care centres,” he said.
Mr Harris was speaking on Monday after he and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced three changes to patient charges. The announcement was made at a new primary care centre in Grangegorman, Dublin 7.
The changes all arose from last October’s budget and comprise: a €10 reduction in the monthly drugs payment scheme threshold, bringing it down to €124; a 10 per cent increase in the weekly income thresholds for GP visit cards; as well as a reduction in prescription charges for medical card holders over 70 years of age. For the latter group, the new prescription charge will reduce from €2 to €1.50.
Mr Harris was responding to comments by the chairman of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Dr Michael Harty, earlier on Monday who said he was concerned that €20 million was not enough, given projected costs are €3 billion over the next six years of Sláintecare.
“It is delivering the new GP contract, which I hope the negotiations will conclude in the coming days. These are all parts of Sláintecare,” said Mr Harris.
“We have a lot to do. It is a 10-year plan. What we have seen in recent weeks is that plan come alive. The action plan published, the integration fund launched, the three announcements today, Laura Magahy and her team in place and doing a very good job,” he said.
Mr Harris said the message for people was if they were going to the pharmacy next month, their monthly bill was going to be cheaper. He said over 70s would get cheaper prescriptions and 44,000 families would benefit from a €10-a-month saving in the drug payment scheme threshold.
“This is actually the first increase in income thresholds for free GP care since 2006,” he said.
Asked about the implications of Brexit for medicine supply in Ireland, he said there was no notification of any medicine shortage associated with Britain leaving the EU.
“The advice to patients doctors and everybody else remains the same: not to stockpile because if you stockpile you can inadvertently disrupt the supply chain.
“For most medications in Ireland there is about a 10-12 week supply here in the country,” he said.
Asked separately on his own views on Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth in the wake of Brexit, he said: “I don’t believe it arises. I don’t wish for it to arise. Indeed my party was the first party to declare a Republic and saw Ireland depart from such structures.
“I think there is an important point. We have to find new ways of working with the United Kingdom should they leave the EU. It’s healthy to have debates all these issues. It’s helpful to hear different views at part conferences. There are lots of different views in relation to it.
“We have a very strong, deep, historical relationship with the United Kingdom. We want to work out a way of making sure that continues. I don’t think that necessitates us remaining a member of the Commonwealth,” he said.