Minister James Reilly delays universal health insurance plans

Wednesday 12 March 2014 19.20
James Reilly discussed a range of issues to mark his third anniversary in office
James Reilly discussed a range of issues to mark his third anniversary in office

Minister for Health James Reilly has said publication of the white paper on universal health insurance will not take place for a few weeks, as he wants to give a comprehensive response to many issues raised by various members of the Cabinet.

In a wide-ranging interview with RTÉ News marking his third anniversary in office as minister, Mr Reilly said he was as concerned as anyone else about cost containment under universal health insurance.

Minister Reilly also said that the VHI has put in place a cost containment committee and that some of the tests being conducted by hospital consultants in future will be challenged.

If the tests are deemed unnecessary, consultants or hospitals will not be paid but patients will not be left to foot the bill.

He said that the cost of procedures will be benchmarked against other countries given that a hip replacement or stroke care costs twice as much in Ireland as in some other countries.

The Health Service Executive has also been directed to set up a website that will provide the public and doctors with access to details of waiting lists by speciality for each consultant.

This will help patients and GPs decide where treatment can be accessed in the fastest manner.

Mr Reilly said that with less money and fewer staff, frontline services had managed to reduce the number of patients waiting on trolleys, as well as in-patient and outpatient waiting times.

But he said a situation at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda yesterday, where 57 patients were awaiting admission, was unacceptable.

Despite a row with the Irish Medical Organisation over plans for free GP care for children under six, he said the Government wants it in place as promised by June or July.

He said there can be negotiation and consultation but in the end the minister will set the fees to be paid for providing care to children under-six.

Mr Reilly insisted that free GP care for this group will happen this year but conceded that some of the clauses in the proposed new contract for GPs, which doctors have rejected, should be changed.

One controversial clause said that a family doctor will not bring the HSE into disrepute.

The minister said this was a standard clause for employers and did not mean GPs could not speak out about concerns. He said he wanted a system of open disclosure.

Mr Reilly, a former president of the IMO, defended the pay for some GP practices under which some receive just under €800,000 a year for HSE work alone.

He said that on balance most GPs provided value for money but said there may be some cases where GPs are overpaid.

On health reform, he said some may criticise that there has been too much change already in recent years, with the abolition of 11 health boards and the establishment of the HSE.

He said he wants to be cautious in ensuring the health service is safe during his reforms, but also that it moves fast enough to make sure the public does not lose faith in the planned new system.

The minister said that to his knowledge there had been no termination of pregnancy yet under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy legislation.

The long-awaited clinical guidelines for doctors who may need to operate under the new laws are expected by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has made a business case to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for more staff especially in the areas of finance, health economics and health analysis.

This is to make sure it is ready to take back accountability for all health spending from next January after the HSE is abolished later this year.

Mr Reilly said he did not regret taking on the health portfolio and that this area of Government was the reason he entered politics.

As regards any Cabinet reshuffle, he said he would serve in any capacity that the Taoiseach wished him to serve in.