Coalition told to stop blaming Covid-19 for delay in Sláintecare reforms

No coronavirus in 2017 when changes proposed and considered ‘urgent and necessary’

The cross-party agreed reforms include access based on need and not ability to pay and creation of a single-tier system, rather than public and private. File photograph: The Irish Times

The cross-party agreed reforms include access based on need and not ability to pay and creation of a single-tier system, rather than public and private. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Government has been accused of blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for delays in implementing the Sláintecare health reforms in an ongoing row following the resignation of key executives involved in the changes.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said that along with housing, health was the biggest issue in the past three general elections and there was no Covid in 2017 when the reforms were launched and were considered “urgent and necessary” at the time.

The Galway TD said she read “with disbelief” a Government Minister “once again minimise” the crisis “and put the blame on Covid”.

Ms Connolly who said Sláintecare was introduced three years before the pandemic said she hoped “never to hear a Minister stand up here again and use the deaths of people from Covid as an explanation for why there was no progress on the implementation of a plan that was necessary because of the deaths and illnesses of people who were suffering as a result of a completely dysfunctional health system”.

She was commenting on the response of Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath in the Dáil to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall who condemned “institutional resistance” in the HSE and the Department of Health to the Sláintecare programme.

Ms Shortall said the Government has the reform plans, yet “refuses to implement them” and all it does is “pay lip service” to the programme.

The Minister insisted, however, that “there’s absolutely no resistance within Government at a political level to delivering on these reforms”.

The Government is putting funding in place to implement the reforms and significant changes had already been made with 97 per cent of actions “on track”.

But he said Ms Shortall did not believe it worthy to mention “the elephant in the room” – 18 months of “living with Covid-19, a global pandemic that has turned our health service upside down”.

Controversy over the reforms was sparked following the resignation of two senior Sláintecare executive, Laura Magahy and Prof Tom Keane, as well as former chairwoman of the South/Soutwest Hospital Group, Prof Geraldine McCarthy.

Ms Shortall said they would tell the Minister “that serious institutional resistance to essential Sláintecare reform is threatening the entire project”.

Ms Shortall said there is a “lack of commitment and a lack of courage at the top from [the] Minister for Health and the rest of the Cabinet” and she asked how the Government expected people to have confidence in the Government’s management of Sláintecare “when so many key people don’t have confidence in it”.

Cancer services

She said that Prof Keane “had staunch support from then minister for health, Mary Harney, when he reformed our cancer services” and would not have been able to do it otherwise.

Insisting however that “the Government is committed to implementing the reforms” Mr McGrath added that it was not a one- or two-year plan but a 10-year plan.

The cross-party agreed reforms include a radical transformation of the health care system, with access based on need and not ability to pay, and the creation of a single-tier system, rather than public and private.

He told Ms Connolly that he mentioned Covid-19 “not as an excuse, but as a reality. The reality is that 5,179 people have died in Ireland with Covid-19”.

Earlier Mr McGrath said the Government will consider extending the term of office of the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council to the end of the year. Its term is due to end next week, but it has sought an extension to that term and is seeking an urgent meeting with the secretary general of the Department of Health.