HEALTH MINISTER JAMES Reilly has committed to introducing free GP care for every citizen in the State by the time of the next general election in 2016.
But the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has quickly dismissed the pledge, saying there is “no hope” of that happening.
The Minister has also pledged to introduce legislation that will allow the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) to crackdown on the number of varied, and in some cases limited, healthcare plans being offered by private health insurers.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio’s Saturday with Brian Dowling, Reilly said that the commitment to free GP care in the lifetime of this government remains.
“I am saying that every citizen in this country will have free GP care. That is the goal of this government,” he said.
But in a statement issued an hour after the interview, the chairman of the IMO’s GP committee, Dr Ray Walley, said there is “no hope” of free GP care for all being introduced within the next two years.
“This is government by sound-bite,” Walley said. “The Department of Health have no plan to support this objective and no appreciation of the resources required to implement it.”
“Politicians talk up free GP care as if its free for everyone but the reality is that people will still pay for their GP but will simply do so indirectly through their taxes or through an insurance scheme instead of directly as at present.”
Universal health insurance
In the same interview Reilly also said that he intended to put in place “the building blocks” to introducing universal health insurance in the second term of this government if it is re-elected.
“We are absolute committed to universal health insurance,” he said. “We’ve always said that this would take two terms not one”.
The Fine Gael TD said that most listeners to the programme would acknowledge that “the health service is a huge tanker to try and turn around”.
Commenting on the fall in the number of people who have private health insurance by around 6 per cent in the last five years, Reilly said that the government is keen to keep as many people in insurance as possible.
“The key here, and the whole key to the successful attainment of universal health insurance, is to get at the absolute costs involved in delivering healthcare in this country,” he said.
Reilly also said that the government will legislate in the new year to “beef up” the powers of the HIA in order to help it crackdown on private health insurance providers offering customers plans which exclude treatment at certain hospitals.
“I am determined that we will address the issue of the proliferation of plans in the new year,” he said, adding that government will legislate for a “fair and transparent market”.
Fianna Fáil’s health spokesperson Billy Kelleher criticised Reilly and the government’s implementation of its health policy.
“The government’s policy on health is simply at sea and in disarray,” he told the same programme.
First published 1.49pm