Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

10.30 29 Jun 2020


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The move towards universal healthcare has to be 'accelerated' in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

He says an "awful lot of men, women and children" are waiting months or years to see a doctor or access a required scan, treatment or surgery.

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show, the Fianna Fáil minister said the Sláintecare plan is still the main route to reform - but COVID is a 'complicating factor' for a healthcare system that was already facing big challenges.

He said: "COVID has created a perfect storm.

"It means we need a very large amount of additional spending, money that could have been deployed on other parts of the healthcare system. The waiting lists have shot way up - the inpatient waiting list since March has gone up by almost a third.

"Even more damaging potentially... the infection control measures that are now required because of COVID means our capacity has gone way down.

"People who run MRIs are saying in some case they'll be able to see half the number of patients."

'Enormous challenges'

Minister Donnelly said a number of measures are now needed to address the changes we've seen in recent months.

He argued: "We need to expand the capacity within the HSE - that means running the operating theatres and diagnostic suites longer; getting everything we can out of the primary care centres; really ramping up on telemedicine.

"We need to secure short-term capacity from outside the HSE - a strategic partnership with private providers. To give you a sense of the challenge we're dealing with... there are about 11,000 in-patient beds in the public system - we now have to keep around 20% of them vacant for infection control measures.

"The third thing we need to do is not just continue with Sláintecare and the mission of universal healthcare, but we need to accelerate it."

He said that while the pandemic has created "enormous challenges".

However, he said that it's proving such a challenge "that everybody needs to come together" to address it and wider issues in the system.

He said all ideas need to be "on the table" as the new Government starts working towards universal healthcare.

Main image: File photo of Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

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