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Speaking today at the IMO AGM in Galway, Minister Harris noted that the report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare is due in the coming weeks, “and I must say, I fully agree with what I read of the IMO discussion on this yesterday. The plan must be realistic, conscious of cost and timelines and I know the Committee will be working hard on this.”
Minister Harris said he had outlined key areas that must underpin the plan, including shifting the model of care towards primary care and strengthening incentives for providers to respond to unmet healthcare needs “by ramping up Activity Based Funding”.
He added: “I believe that the current Hospital Groups and CHOs should be geographically aligned and brought together into regional integrated entities. To complement these, we need to retain a national health agency, to ensure the continuation of initiatives and reforms that need to take place at a national level. This entity is likely to be a much-slimmed down body than the current HSE arrangements.”
On a new GP contract, Minister Harris said: “The current contract is out of date and does not enable our GPs to do all that they want to and that we need them to do…The challenge for us is to develop models of care that enable patients’ conditions to be better managed and which place the emphasis on prevention as well as reduction of exacerbations.
“From my perspective, I want to see a new contract which has a population health focus, providing in particular for health promotion and disease prevention and for the structured on-going care of chronic conditions. A new modern contract should be flexible and be able to respond to the changing nature of the GP workforce.
“It should also include provisions in relation to service quality and standards and transparency. I look forward to significant progress being made in these discussions over the months ahead.”
On the health service bed capacity review, Minister Harris said: “Unlike previous work in this area, this will examine key elements of primary and community care infrastructure in addition to hospital facilities. It will look at all bed capacity needs across the health service – in the hospital, in the community, long term beds, short term beds, specialist beds and so on.”
Speaking on the ongoing controversy over ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital, Minister Harris said that “I know that St Vincent’s want time to reflect on this and indeed to reflect on some of the things I have said. I respect that. But here’s the thing. We need to build this new hospital. It is not good enough for women have to ‘put up with’ delivering their babies in Holles St, which the Master, Dr Rhona Mahony, very clearly says is a hospital facility which is not fit for purpose.
“The international norm is to co-locate maternity hospitals with acute adult hospitals. And whilst much commentary this week has been about bricks and mortar – it is about so much more than that. It’s about access to theatres, to intensive care facilities, to high dependency units, to consultants. It’s about two hospitals working together to meet the full spectrum of needs of women and infants. It’s about empowering doctors to make clinical decisions. It’s about making sure that no doctor finds themselves at three in the morning in the National Maternity Hospital with a woman needing emergency care and waiting and wondering how and when they will get to an acute adult hospital.
“I am very committed to this project and I will work with all stakeholders to ensure that we do build this hospital. Yes, it’s complicated, and we must work together to address concerns that some people have expressed. “
Meanwhile, earlier at the conference, new IMO President Dr Ann Hogan likened the condition of the health services to a patient with chronic illness. “The health services isn’t suffering from a temporary illness…it is suffering from a long term, persistent and severely debilitating illness caused by under-resourcing over decades and like any patient with chronic illness, the outlook is very difficult.”
Dr Hogan also expressed concern at declining take up rates for vaccines in Ireland. “Uptake rates for the HPV vaccine amongst young girls are declining to a worrying extent on the back of fake news stories about non-existent risks from vaccinations. As a result, we are putting the future health of young women at risk of cervical cancer and other ailments.”