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'We must grasp the nettle': The health service is getting an unprecedented €4bn boost

The funding allows for hundreds of new beds.

Image: Shutterstock

Updated at 3.45pm

THE GOVERNMENT IS pumping an extra €4 billion into the Department of Health as part of Budget 2021.

The health budget was set at more than €17 billion last year, already a record amount even before an additional €2 billion was required due to the pandemic.

The unprecedented increase comes amid a Budget set against the assumption that not only will there be a no-deal Brexit next year, but that Covid-19 will remain a major public health concern throughout 2021, and that a vaccine may not be widely available.

However, announcing the measures, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath highlighted that Ireland has already signed up to the European Union’s advanced purchase agreements for a medically-approved vaccine, when or if one becomes available.

The new funding announced today is aimed at a combination of shoring up the health service against the continued challenges posed by Covid-19, but also to expand existing services.

It includes funding to continue providing 100,000 tests a week, personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, and all other Covid-19 action plan measures already announced this year.

The extra funds are also earmarked for:

  • “Immediate actions to reduce waiting lists”, namely 100,000 additional inpatient and day-care procedures through investment in public hospitals, spare capacity in private hospitals, and using the National Treatment Fund 
  • An additional 1,146 acute beds
  • An “permanent increase” in the number of critical care beds, from 255 pre-Covid to 321 by the end of next year
  • 1,250 new community beds in 2021, including more than 600 new rehabilitation beds
  • Five million additional home care hours, aimed to help alleviate community waiting lists for home care, as well as supporting hospital avoidance and delayed discharges
  • The implementation of the Sláintecare public-only consultant contract
  • The accelerated implemented of a number of strategies “including the National Cancer Strategy, the National Maternity Strategy, the National Trauma Strategy, as well as the rollout of other social care strategies”
  • €5 million to community-based dementia services and supports
  • Extra funding for cancer screening
  • €50 million for new drugs
  • €25 million for Healthy Ireland and the National Drugs Strategy
  • €38 million for new measures under the national mental health strategy, Sharing The Vision
  • €100 million for new disability measures, including supports for 1,700 school leavers, respite services, and increased personal assistant hours
  • 16,000 additional posts across the healthcare sector

“Our experience of Covid-19 has reminded all of us that our health service is a core public good, important not only for medical services, but a bedrock of the nation’s social and economic well being,” Minister McGrath told the Dáil.

Even before Covid-19 arrived to our country, our health service faced deep-seated and systemic challenges, and for too long, the resources we have allocated have failed to resolve them.
Addressing these challenges requires a step change in our approach. We must grasp the nettle, implement Sláintecare and redouble our commitment to a publicly funded universally accessible health service.

The Irish Medical Organisation welcomed many of the measures laid out in today’s Budget, but its president Padraig McGarry stressed the need to keep the momentum up.

“It is tragic that it took a pandemic to finally get the investment that our health services have needed for over a decade,” he said in a statement, adding that any investment aimed at boosting capacity in areas where it is already below the recommended levels must be sustained until it reaches the desired levels.

One such area is beds, where McGarry said the number still needs to be increased by around 5,000.

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The statement added that the Budget has done little to attract new consultants in the 500 vacant posts currently in the HSE.

Reacting to the extra funding for disability services, community engagement manager with Inclusion Ireland Mark O’Connor said: “The devil will be in the detail and we must see the necessary delivery plans to back up these commitments.”

“We would also seek assurances that there will be a multi-annual commitment to moving the remaining people out of institutions over the lifetime of this government.”

The calls for commitments to more consistent health service funding were echoed by the INMO’s Phil Ní Sheaghdh:

“Health funding cannot be like a tap – switched on and off from year to year. We need to see multi-annual, clear commitments to building capacity, getting staffing right, and moving to a universal healthcare model. The money needs to be spent well.

“There are clear funding needs in the short term for Covid, but the government cannot take its eye off the ball for medium and long-term reforms.”

About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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