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Doctors say health budget will do little to improve 'overcrowded death zone' hospitals

Paschal Donohoe said health spending is already at record levels but is being increased because the area “needs improvement”.

Updated 2.40pm

FINANCE AND PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has announced that the State’s health budget will increase by €685 million in 2018.

The additional funding means €15.3 billion will be available for the sector next year.

Donohoe confirmed the figures while announcing Budget 2018 in the Dáil this afternoon. He said health spending is already at record levels but is being increased because the area “needs improvement”.

The money aims to provide 1,800 additional staff across the acute, mental health, disability, primary health and community sectors.

Some €90 million has been allocated for a new access plan to ensure people get medical care in the “most appropriate setting to them”.

“This will particularly benefit the most vulnerable patients as we enter the approaching winter,” Donohue said.

A further €55 million has been allocated to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which arranges the provision of hospital treatment and collects national waiting list information — a three-fold increase on the organisation’s 2017 funding.

Prescription charge

There’ll be a reduction in prescription charges for all medical card holders under the age 70 – down from €2.50 to €2 per item, with cap of €20 (down from €25).

Donohoe also announced a reduction in the threshold of the Drugs Payment Scheme, down from €144 a month to €134.

The minister said continued investment in primary care will require “a multi-annual approach”. An extra €471 million is being made available for this from 2018 to 2021.

He said this money will allow for investment in critical infrastructure such as the new National Children’s Hospital and a number of primary and community care schemes.

‘Deeply disappointing’

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has described today’s announcement as “deeply disappointing and regressive from a health perspective”.

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IMO President Dr Ann Hogan criticised Donohoe’s comments, saying the claim the health budget is the biggest in the history of the State is “spin”.

“The reality is that our spending on public health services has not kept pace with either rising demands or the increase in population of our patients over 65. Everyone knows that the health budget for the coming year will not even keep pace with health demands and the various crises afflicting the health services will worsen over the coming year.

What we now know is a crisis in our health services will become the new norm and we still wait for our government to make meaningful investment.

Hogan warned that, as a result of Budget 2018, the following is likely to happen in the health sector:

  • Waiting lists will lengthen “even above the shameful level of almost 700,000

  • Hospitals will “continue to operate in the overcrowded death zone they are stuck in and trolley counts will rise above 500 on a regular basis”
  • GP services “will be even more overwhelmed and will only be able to deliver the most acute of services due to lack of resources and unsustainable costs

  • Doctors will continue to emigrate in droves rather than work in a service which is increasingly not fit for purpose

In a somewhat more positive reaction to today’s health-related announcement, the Irish Cancer Society welcomed the move to reduce prescription charges and to lower the amount cancer patients will have to pay under the Drugs Payment Scheme.

However, Donald Buggy, the organisation’s Head of Services and Advocacy said: “The government must go further to ensure the calamitous effects of statutory charges forced on patients during the recession are reversed.

“We want to see a stated commitment from government that they will abolish prescription charges by 2021; abolish inpatient charges, which have inexplicably risen in the past year, and reduce the Drugs Payment Scheme threshold to €85 by 2021.”

Read: Budget 2018 Liveblog: Last-minute preparations as Paschal Donohoe gets set to announce the Budget

Read: Tax rate on sunbed services almost doubles to 23%

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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