As has been the case all around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented interruption of normal healthcare activity in Ireland. However, as the country slowly emerges from lockdown, the Government and Department of Health have turned back to their pre-pandemic priorities.
On Wednesday, the Irish health system received a much needed boost as the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD published the new Sláintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023.
This three-year plan sets out the priorities and actions for the next phase of the Sláintecare reform programme which was published by an all-party healthcare committee in 2017. At the time their vision was to achieve a universal single-tier health and social care system.
The Strategy Plan 2021-2023 will focus on two new reform programmes:
- Reform Programme 1 will focus on integration, safety, prevention, shift of care to the right location, productivity, extra capacity and achieving Sláintecare waiting time targets.
- Reform Programme 2 will focus on addressing the health inequalities and will aim to set the Irish health system on a path towards universal healthcare.
These two reform programmes shall be developed through eleven associated projects over the next three years. Some of the most notable projects include:
- The construction of three new elective hospitals in Dublin, Cork, and Galway.
- The implementation of a new multiannual plan to reduce waiting lists in hospital and the community.
- Commitment to roll-out the Sláintecare Consultant Contract, permitting public-only work in public hospitals.
- The delivery of 31 new Primary Care Centres.
- The recruitment of 7,000 additional community-based healthcare staff.
Minister Donnelly commented that these key projects will support Sláintecare in “delivering much-needed health care reform, and that now is the time to accelerate this”.
Meanwhile, co-leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall TD, said while she welcomes what appears to be a whole refocus on the Sláintecare reform programme, the roll out of the programme has been slow and its funding needs to be ringfenced to ensure it will happen. Despite the concerns over funding, it is abundantly clear that the Irish health system requires a supportive framework so that it can endure the oncoming return to normality.