Sláintecare is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for ailing health service to heal itself

Dep Hildegarde Naughton

Dep Hildegarde Naughton

Last month, the Minister for Health announced a programme of action to implement the report of the Special Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, on which I served as the only member from Connacht.

Our Committee’s report, ‘Sláintecare’, is unique as the first healthcare policy document in the history of the State to have the express support of all parties and independents on both sides of Dáil Éireann.

With this historical consensus, it was possible to devise a long-term health strategy focussed solely on the interests of the patient and the public, without regard for party-political imperatives. The strategy will therefore withstand political vagaries and its implementation will continue unabated regardless of which parties hold power over the next decade.

The Government has now published an implementation strategy to make our report a reality.

This is the latest in a series of important milestones towards delivering a programme of health reform arising from the Sláintecare report.

We are an outlier in Europe in allowing financial means to determine the speed and quality of the medical care we receive. This is not equitable, it is not acceptable, and it has been allowed to persist for too long with the assent of every government since the foundation of the State.

This new 10-year programme of healthcare reform will, with cooperation of all partners, change that forever.

The Sláintecare report sets out a vision for the future of healthcare over a 10-year period. Since the report was published, the Government has been moving forward on a number of fronts, in order to translate our vision into reality. We are committed to achieving this transformation, which will require investment, strengthened governance and accountability, and a coherent programme of reform.

Earlier this year, the Government signalled its commitment to comprehensive healthcare reform by providing for significant investment for expanded capacity and redevelopment across the health service in the National Development Plan (NDP ).

This will create substantially more capacity in both the community and acute hospital sectors, and will also provide for the development of new elective-only facilities – a key Sláintecare recommendation that will relieve pressure on emergency departments and address the scandal of hospital waiting lists.

I am glad to say that the NDP also includes a new state-of-the-art elective hospital on the Merlin Park site. This is a local priority that I have been working towards since my election just over two years ago.

Some key actions in the first three years of reform include:

·Enhancement of community care, including the expansion of community-based diagnostic facilities, a new community nursing service, and a continued programme of investment in primary care centres.

· Reform of the GP contract, including provision for a greater role in chronic disease management

· Introduction of a new statutory scheme for homecare services.

· Review of the eligibility framework to develop a roadmap to achieve universal entitlement to healthcare.

· Increasing bed capacity in public hospitals.

· Choosing locations and commencing the planning process for new elective hospitals in Cork, Dublin and Galway.

· Tackling long waiting times for acute hospitals by continued investment in the NTPF and the development of an integrated waiting list management system.

· Development of a national clinical strategy and hospital group strategic plans to guide organisation of hospital services.

Decades of short-termism, disjointed strategies, and partisan point-scoring have left our health and social-care services unable to meet the demand. The size and profile of our population is changing rapidly, bringing with it changing healthcare needs. There is overwhelming consensus that a transformation is needed in the way we deliver care and that this must be planned, managed and delivered within a coherent system-wide reform programme.

The publication of the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy signals the Government’s intention to deliver transformational reform of the health system over the next decade. It provides the framework for a significant programme of change and improvement to achieve the long-term vision as set out in the Sláintecare report.

The Implementation Strategy that is being published outlines a sustainable programme of reform for the coming years. It is firmly rooted in the vision and underpinning principles of the Sláintecare report. The reform programme spans right across all health services, and will be complex. These changes won’t happen overnight, and it is essential to get the sequencing of reform right in order to minimise interference with ongoing service delivery and to put in place the necessary enablers and building blocks for change, including new infrastructure and supports for the health workforce.

Engagement with the healthcare workforce and the public will be a priority throughout the reform process. Success will depend on a broad coalition – spanning politicians, all health-service professionals and staff, patients and the public – to unite behind this plan.

Similar to other countries, the Irish health system needs to radically change if it is to properly meet the health needs of its population. Strong leadership, clear governance and effective engagement among stakeholders across the health sector will be essential to successful reform, as will a long-term vision for health policy that remains constant from government to government – that is what Sláintecare represents.

Hildegarde Naughton is a Fine Gael TD for Galway West and was the only representative from Connacht on the Special Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare.

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