Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended the Government’s commitment to universal health insurance in his opening speech to the Fine Gael ardfheis in Dublin tonight.
He said that three years ago the Irish people had voted for change in the economy and the national finances but above all they had voted for change in the health system.
Mr Kenny said that Ireland in 2011 had a health system that was resistant to change and during the Celtic Tiger years tens of thousands of people had been forced on to waiting lists. “They waited on lists. They waited on chairs. They waited on trolleys. On one day in January in 2011 their waiting created a national record. 569 sick, vulnerable people were lying on trolleys in the various A&Es across our country.”
He said that when people get into the Irish health system they were well cared for by the best nurses, doctors and care staff in the world but getting into the system has been the problem. The Taoiseach said that Fine Gael had come into office promising to change the system and the evidence was there that change was taking place.
He said that last year the number of people counted on trolleys in A &Es was a third lower than in 2011 thanks to Minister for Health James Reilly. “We have made these critical and real improvements even when the number of people employed in the health service has fallen by 10 per cent. That reform, that improvement is good but it is only a start,” he said.
Mr Kenny added that the Minister’s work was focused on the patient and on the need for fundamental structural changes that would bring about a really effective health system for everybody. “That’s why I’m looking forward to the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI) being published. It will set out in detail how we will introduce the most radical reform of our health service since the foundation of the State.
“Crucially, it will outline how we will tear down the barriers to access. So for a change, when implemented, a new health service will be ready and waiting if you and your family need it,” he said. The Taoiseach added that the current system of public/private care was not just inefficient it was deeply unfair.
“It’s hard to believe that just two years before we commemorate the centenary of 1916 too often too many of our people are treated not on the basis of medical need but on the basis of income, on the basis of whether or not they can afford private health insurance; a basis that is and should be repugnant to the people of a still-young Republic.
“That is why in the Programme for Government we committed to moving to Universal Health Insurance,” he said. Mr Kenny said this would involve a single system in which everyone would have health insurance and a system in which everybody’s GP care would be covered by their insurance. He said that the Government planned to introduce universal health insurance in 2019. It would involve long and hard work but the process had already begun.
“A vital part of this work is Dr James Reilly’s consultation with the Irish people. The biggest ever public consultation in the history of our health service. Because the health service does not exist to sustain jobs or to support itself or its own interest. No. The health service belongs to the people.”
Mr Kenny said yesterday’s report by the Chief Medical Officer on the deaths in Portlaoise Regional Hospital made for grim reading and he commended Minister Reilly for his decisive and swift action on this matter. He expressed his deepest sympathy to the families who lost their babies.