Minister proposes 10-year plan for ‘best in world’ health service

McGill Summer School: Simon Harris says health staff fed up with piecemeal reform

The Minister for Health told the MacGill Summer School that “we need to stop running the health service based on election cycles”. Photographs: Reuters

The Minister for Health told the MacGill Summer School that “we need to stop running the health service based on election cycles”. Photographs: Reuters

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has called for a 10-year strategy to reform Ireland’s health service.

Mr Harris, speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, on Thursday night, said health staff were “rightly fed up” with piecemeal reform and demanded a comprehensive system to tackle problems in the service.

“We need to stop running the health service based on election cycles and individual ministerial ideology and instead put . . . a 10-year strategy . . . to build, develop, reform and modernise healthcare services for the future,” said Mr Harris.

“Now is the time to change the focus and concentrate on creating a better, fairer society for our people . . . Central to that is building, not a better health service, but a health service that is the best in the world,” he added.

Mr Harris also referred to how the former taoiseach and minister for health Brian Cowen had described the department as “Angola” because it was so dysfunctional.

“It’s time we moved beyond ‘Angola’ and ‘dysfunctional’ . . . and concentrated on the direction,” he said. “It’s not naive to aim high . . . and a world class health service is so worth achieving,” added Mr Harris.

“I’m in no doubt about the scale of the task. But I’ve never bought the Angola analogy. And more to the point – I don’t think any of us should.”

Mr Harris said reform demanded energy and vision and hope and determination and optimism.

“The fact is that every great advance in health . . . came out of times of great challenge.”

Acute care

The Minister said that primary care was key to the future. “Yes, we must have acute care that matches the best in the world. But we need primary care that matches or exceeds the best in the world in order to keep people from needing acute care,” said Mr Harris.

“It must focus on keeping patients well, actively manage patients’ needs and reduce as far as possible, the number of patients admitted to hospitals in the first place. I think of it as ‘better care, close to home’. A primary care system, which is not just about bricks and mortar, but about the services inside.”

Phelim Quinn, chief executive of the Health Information and Quality Authority, endorsing the idea of a 10-year strategy said it was “evident that we need to move from a reactive, to a proactive approach to health service reform”.

“Political consensus on a long-term, strategic policy for the health and social care service is required, with the focus being on the safety and quality of care for people who use these services,” he said.

“I also welcome the intention to develop and adopt a 10-year plan for our health service. It is time to put aside the pursuit of narrow sectoral interests and work together on sustainable, affordable and future-proof models of health and social care.”