The St Vincent de Paul Society has described the government's current health strategy as a failure. It says that the provision of health care, particularly for the disadvantaged, is a shambles. Minister for Health, Mícheal Martin, has replied that he has put the issue of greater access to services for poorer people on the agenda of his health strategy review.

The charity's document entitled "Health Inequalities and Poverty" contains the stinging criticism that the Republic's health care is based of people's ability to pay and not on need. Minister Martin attended its launch in a hostel for the homeless in Dublin today. It concludes that Ireland has the worst life expectancy and the fewest hospital beds in the European Union. Based on research and on the experience of the society's members, it highlights a 5-year waiting list for children's orthodontic care. It says that the Accident and Emergency system is on the verge of collapse, but welcomes the government's recent pledge to recruit 25 new consultants for the area.

The charity calls for the provision of health care as a basic human right in the Constitution, and for a significant reduction of hospital waiting lists, which currently stand at 28,000. It also calls for the raising of eligibility limits for medical cards and the provision of cards to all children under the age of 18. The report argues that it is unrealistic to expect a family with two children earning £180 a week to pay fees for doctors, prescriptions and consultants. Minister Martin said that the issue of greater access for poorer people to the services is on the agenda of his health strategy review.