A report from the Economic and Social Research Institute has found that setting up a new purchaser of public hospital care, separate to the Health Service Executive, may help towards achieving universal healthcare.

The ESRI report also suggests other options such as extending the present tax-financed primary care system, or introducing compulsory private insurance for planned hospital care.

The 28-page report, 'Challenges in achieving Universal Healthcare in Ireland' says that developing a model for universal healthcare is beyond the scope of the report.

It also says that while the Government abandoned its proposed 2014 White Paper model of Universal Health Insurance on grounds of cost, had it been introduced, it could have increased costs, without necessarily achieving universal and equitable access.

The report says that the government policy appeared to be based, at the time, on a misconception that universal private health insurance was synonymous with universal healthcare.

The report notes that the last government did extend free GP care to young children and re-instated it for people over 70 years.

It says that the potential to build universal primary care, from the existing tax-financed system, at relatively low cost, is a pragmatic argument, for continuing on this tax-financed pathway - whether progressively extending cover on age, or income criteria.

The authors say that any proposed reform towards universal healthcare should be subject to rigorous cost-benefit analysis.