The government has apparently pledged €3.69 billon to implement this plan, but that figure is not mentioned anywhere in the report

The government’s Sláintecare implementation plan contains a number of positive commitments – but fails to provide a detailed timeline or breakdown of the budget, according to Social Democrats co-leader Róisin Shortall.

“It is four years this month since Sláintecare was published and implementation has been extremely slow. Given Sláintecare is a 10-year plan, it is essential that its implementation is now accelerated. The budget, therefore, clearly is key.

“The government has apparently pledged €3.69 billon to implement this plan, but that figure is not mentioned anywhere in the report. Instead, it was included in a separate statement accompanying the report. This begs the question, has this report been costed?

“It seems, that in plucking out a figure of €3.69 billion, the government has simply multiplied this year’s Sláintecare budget, of €1.235 billion, by three – with no regard to the financial cost of the individual health reform measures it intends to introduce. Hardly a rigorous approach to financial planning.

“Moving forward with Sláintecare is essential. Front-line workers in the health service performed heroically throughout the pandemic, but covid has caused enormous damage. This is evident in the huge surge in numbers on waiting lists, with nearly one million people expected to be on waiting lists for hospital care by the end of the year.

“Capacity in the health service now urgently needs to be addressed. Therefore, the commitment to build three new elective hospitals in Cork, Dublin and Galway, to treat waiting list patients, is welcome. However, those hospitals will take years to construct and don’t deal with our immediate problems.

“Hiring an additional 7,000 community healthcare staff is something that could make a difference, and take pressure off our acute hospitals, so it is imperative that this recruitment is front-loaded to help tackle the very long waiting lists for community services like speech and language therapy and physiotherapy.

“The plan also promises to remove private care from public hospitals, gives no detail on how it proposes to do this. The report simply reiterates a government commitment to introduce a Sláintecare Consultant Contract and is entirely vague about any other measures that may be necessary to do this.

“This lack of detail is also reflected in the failure to include a detailed timeline for the implementation of the plan. Targets are listed for all four quarters of 2021, but this level of specificity is absent for 2022 and 2023.

“The vision of Sláintecare, as the report acknowledges, is to achieve a universal single-tier health and social care system, where everyone has equitable access to services based on need, and not ability to pay.

“However, there is no information in the implementation plan on how the government proposes to remove cost as a barrier to care. In that respect, I am concerned to see references to developing proposals for “Universal Eligibility” rather than “Universal Entitlement”.

“In this country, we have never suffered a dearth of reports, which promised to deliver health reform. What we have lacked is the political will and a ring-fenced budget. The pandemic has shown us that our health service can evolve, to respond to an unprecedented health crisis. We can’t now allow stasis to develop and a return to the status quo.

“The Social Democrats will support any genuine effort to implement Sláintecare, but we will be watching to ensure the timelines listed in this report are met and the full range of measures are introduced over the coming three years. Further information on the budget is also immediately required.

12 May, 2021


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