Health Reform Alliance calls on Future of Healthcare Committee to offer vision for a universal healthcare system

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Leading Irish charities have come together to present a vision for health reform at the first public session of the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, which has been tasked with developing a ten-year plan for the health system.

The Health Reform Alliance expressed the hope that the Committee can help achieve a universal, single-tier health and social care system in Ireland.

Cliona Loughnane, spokesperson for the Health Reform Alliance, said: “This Committee has a rare opportunity to shape health policy for the next ten years and beyond. We hope all members will work together to create the foundations for a health service that treats everyone equally, and where the ability to pay for healthcare is no longer a matter of life and death.”

“Real reform of the health and social care system cannot be achieved within five-year electoral cycles defined by hotchpotch, piecemeal changes. Vision and bravery is now required by all parties to establish consensus as to how to make our health system work best for those who need it most.”

Speaking at the Committee, Paul Gordon, a member of the Alliance’s executive, said: “The fact we are sitting here today reflects the acknowledgement that the partisan discourse of the past must be exactly that. It is incumbent on Committee members that they continue the good work we know they have been doing behind the scenes so far, and continue to collaborate to achieve a vision for a health and social care system we can be confident in.”

The Health Reform Alliance, launched at the beginning of 2016, to help set out a new vision for our health service, sees the main problem with the health system as a lack of universal access to health services.

Ms. Loughnane said: “Unlike the majority of Europe, Ireland has never developed universal access to health services. Our peculiar provision of healthcare is unique. It combines a lack of universal access to care with large out-of-pocket payments, and simply cannot meet the needs of the thousands of people across Ireland who depend on it every day.”

Ms. Loughnane called on committee members to “focus initially on the healthcare system to be delivered for people. Rather than putting the cart before the horse and devising a way to fund a system before deciding what we’re paying for, we’d urge members to consider what outcome we need to achieve.”

“The Health Reform Alliance believes that a reformed system should share the burden of illness collectively, where healthy people subsidise the sick and high income earners subsidise low earners.”

Dr. Marita O’Brien, also presenting on behalf of the Alliance, emphasised the need to design a vision for a health and social care system.

“In our current system, social care is seen as an individual responsibility subject to heavy means-testing. This means a lack of funding set aside for social care which can force families to place a loved one in residential care prematurely, when home help, day-care or respite could have kept them at home.”

“Increasingly, vital social care services are only available to those with the highest needs and lowest incomes, rather than as a universal service supporting the whole population. The divide between health and social care needs to be bridged”.

Acknowledging the challenges the Committee will face in the coming months as it prepares to report to the Oireachtas, the Health Reform Alliance commended Committee members on their work to date and in recognising the need for Cross-Party action.