Ireland's current healthcare system is unaffordable according to Minister for Health James Reilly who has warned that continuing with it will mean increased taxes and fewer services.
Dr Reilly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny both committed themselves to the introduction of universal health insurance by 2019.
The Minister said that “some have argued that we cannot afford universal health insurance. My answer is simple: we cannot afford the current system, even after all the savings we have made over the last few years.”
He said: “Without reform, taxes will go up and services will come down. It is inevitable. With the right kind of reform, however, we can lower costs even as we improve services, and deliver better, safer outcomes for patients.”
The system was unfair “because it has created a health service that treats some people differently than others”.
He said “if you cannot afford insurance, you may have to pay a much greater cost - waiting for treatment in a health system that is badly designed, and struggling to meet demand. Just like justice, health care delayed can mean health care denied”.
Such profound unfairness surely cannot be tolerated any longer, he said. But the system was not just unfair. “It is also deeply inefficient.”
It had given Ireland “one of the highest priced, most expensive health systems in the developed world - once you adjust for the fact that Ireland’s population is still much younger than most other developed countries. We cannot afford this broken health system - we must reform it.”
Dr Reilly told the opening night of the Fine Gael ardfheis he wanted to have a "national conversation" about reform of the health service, which he described as "our health service".
The Minister will publish the White Paper on universal health insurance “in the coming weeks”.
The journey to universal health insurance “represents the most fundamental transformation of the health system in Ireland’s history. We always said that this could not be achieved in one term of government. But I am firmly committed to reaching our destination - a system of Universal Health Insurance, designed to meet the needs of the Irish people.”
He pledged that once universal care was introduced: “everyone is treated the same - getting the healthcare they need, when they need it, and where no-one is denied care because they can’t afford it.
“ Doctors and nurses are given both greater freedom and greater responsibility, so that they can deliver the kind of safe care that we - and they - all want.
“ Parents are not forced to choose between bringing a sick child to the GP or paying the electricity bill.
“ Waiting times and waiting lists are brought down to the level of our European partners.”
Referring to the report published earlier today on the Portlaoise hospital deaths, Dr Reilly said it highlighted deficiencies in the clinical care provided in the Portlaoise maternity service, but also a “profound lack of compassion and empathy towards families who had suffered every parent’s worst nightmare, the loss of a child.”
Dr Reilly said: “We have taken immediate steps to ensure that Portlaoise is properly supported to provide a safe service. However the Chief Medical Officer’s report also has wider implications for the safety of our health service, and I am firmly committed to doing everything within my power to ensure that such tragedies never occur again.”