Enda Kenny has said that if Fine Gael is returned to Government he will introduce a universal health insurance system within three years.

Deputy Kenny said it would entitle everyone to free GP and hospital care, as well as free medication.

He made the comments as he launched the party's new health care strategy called Fair Care.

Fine Gael has proposed what it calls a radical programme of reform.

Waiting lists would be cut using a model developed in Northern Ireland and a system whereby hospitals would be remunerated on the basis of how many patients they treat introduced.

The party says that when these changes are in place a universal insurance scheme would be implemented.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Kenny said that those currently with medical cards would be better-off, as would those with private medical insurance who would then get free GP care.

He said the 16% of the population with no medical card or no private insurance would have to pay but that contribution would be heavily subsidised.

The Fine Gael leader would not put a figure on that contribution, but Fine Gael’s Health spokesman James Reilly said it would start at around €200 a year for those just above medical card entitlement level.