HSE achieves better outcomes than Britain’s NHS, Varadkar says

Ireland’s health service too small for State’s ageing population, Tánaiste acknowledges

Leo Varadkar: In the Dáil Mr Varadkar said there are better health outcomes for people in Ireland than in Britain, under the NHS, for those affected by heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Leo Varadkar: In the Dáil Mr Varadkar said there are better health outcomes for people in Ireland than in Britain, under the NHS, for those affected by heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Ireland’s health service achieves better outcomes than Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

He acknowledged that Ireland’s health service is too small for the State’s five million population, and hospital infrastructure has not kept pace with demographic changes.

He also said that an ageing population will put additional pressure on the service in the coming years.

But during leaders’ questions in the Dáil he insisted that there are better health outcomes for people in Ireland than in Britain, under the NHS, for those affected by heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

Mr Varadkar was responding to People Before Profit TD Gin Kenny who said that more than 50 per cent of people in Ireland have private health insurance to deal with the two-tier health system which “has been shown to be deeply flawed and unequal”. He added that “a creeping privatisation has always existed in our health system”.

The Dublin South-West TD said people favoured a universal one-tier health service such as Britain’s NHS and “the outcomes for everybody are really good” when there is a health system “from cradle to grave”. He said that Ireland should have such a system.

Mr Varadkar said he believed in universal healthcare in Ireland. “I won’t lie to you – it’s something I’ve tried to make a reality in the last couple of years and we continue to work on that.”

But, he said, “there’s a misunderstanding sometimes about how different health service models work in the world.

“There are different models that work in different countries, unless you’re going to outlaw private health insurance entirely.”

He said: “I acknowledge the simple fact that our public health service is too small for a population of five million people, which is also an ageing population.

“That’s not the only reason, but one of the reasons, too many people have to wait too long for the healthcare they need.”

But he rejected any suggestion that outcomes are better in the NHS.

“You’re more likely to survive cancer in Ireland than you are in Britain. You’re more likely to survive a stroke and heart attack in Ireland than you are in Britain.”

“So the idea that the NHS has better outcomes, that’s not correct. We’ve access problems, but we’ve better outcomes than the NHS,” he insisted.

Waiting lists

Mr Kenny said almost a million patients will be on waiting lists by the end of the year, with almost 300,000 people waiting more than a year for treatment. “There are only three hospital beds per 100,000 population, whereas the OECD average is five per 100,000.

“One-in-five consultant posts is vacant and our ICU capacity per capita is little more than average for the OECD.”

When he asked if the Tánaiste had “the stomach to reverse the cuts” to the health service Mr Varadkar said “I’ve more than the stomach for it. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing. We’ve been expanding our health service and investing in it.”

He said that in 2015, when he was minister for health, “I took the decision to reverse the policy of reducing the number of beds in our health service.

“And, since then, every year we’ve seen an increase in the number of hospital beds in Ireland” including almost 1,000 more beds, and 44 per cent more doctors than a decade ago.