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Sunshine and showers in health

Even the recent announcement on the relocation of the three Dublin maternity hospitals was held outside of Government buildings in the sunshine. Pitched as a ‘good news’ story, the relocation “in the future” was, however, light on time frames. Crucially, no money has been earmarked for the Rotunda and Coombe moves, which will cost at least €150 million each, while the Holles St move is currently stalled due to an ongoing row between St Vincent’s Hospital and the HSE.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said potential funding models would now be examined for the new maternity hospitals, including public-private partnerships. This was a model heavily favoured by former Minister for Health Mary Harney, who, as the Medical Independent (MI) exclusively reported earlier this year, is a big fan of Leo…

Minister Varadkar downplayed suggestions last week by MI that the relocation of the Rotunda to his constituency in Blanchardstown meant that the Connolly Hospital site would now be a very attractive location for the new National Children’s Hospital if the planning process goes wrong for the St James’s site.

While he insisted that it was full steam ahead with the St James’s site, ongoing objections by local residents, as well as a number of healthcare professionals and patient advocates, and the uncertainty of what An Bord Pleanála will decide, mean that things could very well change again for this much-delayed project.

On the actual ‘good news’ front, the Government made a somewhat unexpected announcement to extend medical card eligibility to all children under the age of 18 years with a diagnosis of cancer without a means test. The cards will be valid for a period of five years and will also be retrospective, so that any child who has had a cancer diagnosis in the past five years will also be covered.

The announcement came as the free GP care scheme for under-sixes was launched on July 1, with Minister Varadkar clearly winning that battle. The vast majority of GPs have now signed up, notwithstanding a united ‘no’ front in South Tipperary.

It was a ‘bad news’ story for the Government’s universal health insurance (UHI) plans last week, however, with the leaking of the costings showing the scheme could cost between €2,200 to €3,200 per adult, far more than originally mooted. While it has become increasingly obvious in the last couple of years that the original plan is both unaffordable and impractical, the costings data appears to be the final nail in the coffin for UHI, as Dr Sara Burke writes in her column in this issue.

Minister Varadkar confirmed to MI that other costing models are now being examined and he continues to use the phrase ‘universal healthcare’, as opposed to ‘UHI’, as he seeks to distance himself from the much-maligned white elephant. He has, however, pointed out that to improve our health system, more money is needed and that the public and the Government have to accept and allow for that if they want to see real improvement.

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