PRIMARY CARE WILL BE LABOUR’S PRIORITY FOR NEXT FIVE YEARS

Speaking at Launch of ‘Towards a new National Community Health Service

The last five years have been challenging for the health service and the people who work in it.

It has been a time of change; a time of reform and a time when resources have been stretched.

The system is far from perfect.

But there have also been significant successes.

  • In developing the treatment of chronic conditions

  • In improving the provision of mental health care

  • In reorganising the provision of hospital care by the formation of hospital groups

  • In expanding the network of primary care centres

In our health plan which we publish today we set out an ambitious programme for the next five years and beyond.

We want to do thi ngs differently

We want to do things better.

We want to do things in a way that provides care where and when it is needed.

In a way that gives value for money.

At the heart of our plan is the development of primary care.

To date 90 primary care centres have been completed and 16 more are under construction. I expect that construction will begin on a further 14 centres next month.

Primary care centres are the way of the future.

It makes sense for GPs to pool resources.

It makes sense to provide a range of services under the same roof.

It makes sense to move important services out of the acute hospitals and into community based services.

Our ultimate aim is to provide a comprehensive system of primary care free at the point of access.

This will take time. It will take money.

And it will take ambi tion and determination to bring it about.

In the first instance we have set about providing free access to general practitioners.

To date we have provided free GP care for the youngest and oldest in our society. We have set aside funds to extend the service to older children later this year.

Progress has been slower than I would have wished.

Not because of a lack of resources. But because it took time to reach agreement as to how the system might work.

What we need now is a shift in gear. We need to reach agreement on a pathway to universal coverage and on the steps we will have to take to make universal coverage a reality.

One of these steps will be a plan to increase the number of GPs.

We will need to train more doctors;

We will need to retain more doctors within the system.

We will need to encourage some who have left the system to come b ack.

And we will need to make full use of Advanced Nurse Practitioners.

I want to see full GP care for all in the term of the next government. I know this is ambitious but I believe it can be done.

And I want to appoint a full cabinet minister with responsibility for primary care in order to make progress as quickly as possible.

In the past, the development of primary care has played second fiddle to the challenges of the acute hospital system.

I am determined that that will change and I believe that having a dedicated cabinet Minister will be an important next step in making that change.

Ireland’s population is increasing and most of us are living longer than previous generations.

This means that we need to provide more acute hospital beds and we need more health professionals working within the system.

This will require more investment in the years to c ome.

It will also mean that we need to get the best possible value for money and full accountability for the use of public funds.

I understand that people are frustrated by the problems in our acute hospital system.

I share that frustration.

There are no instant solutions to many of the challenges we face. And I will not make reckless promises which are doomed to disappoint.

But I do believe that, as and if, our economy continues to recover it will free up the resources to help us to make real progress.

It will take reform, resources and good will but it can be done.