February 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’d like to thank the many groups and individuals who participated in the public consultation process relating to the content and scope of a new GP contract to underpin the provision of GP care, free at the point of use, for all children aged under six years of age.
Almost 300 submissions were received in advance of the closing date on Friday last and these submissions are now being examined by the HSE and the Department of Health.
I wish to reiterate that the document which has been put out for consultation is a draft. I have no doubt that there will be changes to the text following the consultation process. In particular, I will be writing to the GPs’ representative bodies inviting them to meet with the Department of Health and the HSE for detailed discussions on the scope and content of the draft contract. This will afford them the fullest opportunity to raise any and all issues which they may have regarding the draft contact and indeed to make their own proposals as to how it may be improved.
The Minister also confirmed that he will respond this week to separate correspondence from the IMO regarding the process of engagement with them in relation to the draft contract.
February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
I was humbled to open the Human Appeal Ireland Charity Shop in the old Apollo building on the Dundrum Road. Proceeds from the new charity shop will go to alleviate poverty in Syria, the Philippines, Palestine and Burma. Human Appeal Ireland is one of the few charities that have managed to gain access inside Syria. It was a great honour to meet all of the local volunteers who have worked so hard to make this impressive initiative happen.
The Syrian people and the many thousands of refugees are in our hearts and minds. I’d encourage people to pop in and tell their friends and neighbours about this new local hub which is run by local people for the benefit of Syrian refugees. Customers have the opportunity to purchase handmade goods such as knitwear and crafts made by Syrian refugees.
The team who run the charity shop are supported by the Southside Partnership’s TÚS scheme and I want to commend them for their hard work and dedication.
An Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Foreign Affairs, has committed a €12 million package of support on behalf of the Irish people for Syria in 2014, which will be used to provide emergency food, water, health and protection to the most vulnerable Syrians.
Human Appeal Ireland will open a series of community hubs where locals can meet, pick up a few bargains and have a cup of tea or coffee. The Dundrum charity shop is the very first community hub to open in Ireland.
February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Since the closure of Mount Carmel Hospital, there has been considerable speculation about the use of the facilities in the future.
I am very keen on the idea that Mount Carmel Hospital could become a step down facility or a short term transitional facility for older persons as there is a distinct demographic pressure on the existing support and rehabilitation services for elderly patients in Dublin South.
With 17,543 people or 12% of the Dublin South population aged 65 and over – there is real merit in the idea that the HSE would explore the possibility of additional transitional support and rehabilitation services.
Such services would help older people retain their independence and recover from episodic bouts of injury and illness. If a patient’s discharge from hospital is properly supported, the patient will leave hospital safely and sooner and will be less likely to be readmitted to hospital.
On a personal level and as a local TD, I too was saddened by the news that Mount Carmel had been placed in liquidation. Ideally, the Mount Carmel campus will be renewed as a health facility that could serve the local community long into the future.
February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Free GP care for children aged under six was announced in Budget 2014 and it is intended that children under the age of six will be able to attend their GP without fees, by the middle of this year. Approximately 240,000 children across Ireland will benefit from this innovative public health policy. Free GP care for children aged under 6 is not an end in itself, but an important first step in the phased introduction of GP care without fees for everyone.
It’s a sad truth that many parents who are not eligible for a medical card are simply unable to pay the fee needed for their sick child to be seen by a GP. As a society, this is unacceptable. No family should be forced to choose between sending their child to the doctor and putting food on the table. Everyone, especially our children, should have access to healthcare based on their need, rather than on their ability to pay a fee.
Children deserve the best start in life. The foundations of a person’s health are established in childhood. Free GP care will help people to stay healthy, more productive and active throughout their lives.
When people delay going to their GP and getting regular preventative and screening care, it results in the late detection of illness, poorer health outcomes and greater pressures on our hospitals. There is no more expensive place in our healthcare system than an acute hospital bed. Costs there can range between €800 and €1,200 a night. Investment in primary care and in particular GP care without fees, keeps people out of hospitals for as long as possible – thus reducing the pressures on our hospital system and cutting costs.
There is a body of evidence that shows that GP fees are a barrier to accessing healthcare. Research shows that in Northern Ireland (where GP care is free at the point of access) only 1.8% of patients with medical problems had not consulted a doctor because of cost, whereas the figure here is 18.9%.
In common with health systems all over the world, this Government is grappling with how best to configure our health services to address the rise of chronic illnesses and an ageing population. The introduction of universal primary care, free at the point of use, is an essential element of the reform we need in our health services if they are to become responsive to the needs of the twenty-first century.
There’s a reason GP care without fees are a norm in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and across Europe – because it makes sense and it works. Free, accessible, high-quality, primary care services will reduce societal inequalities, save money and create a healthier and more prosperous society.
There has been a lot of concern about medical cards recently – especially cards awarded on discretionary grounds. The weakness of the current system is that eligibility is judged on a person’s means. This has been the law since 1970. We should start now to change this by introducing a universal system of GP access. As free GP care for all will be introduced on a phased basis, some will benefit before others, but benefit delayed should not prevent innovation and reform in public health policy.
This Government has begun the process of building a primary care system with universal access to GP care. I look forward to the day when all citizens of this country are treated equally by our health system, and not on the basis of their ability to pay. The introduction of free GP care for children aged under 6 is a landmark moment in the creation of a universal primary care system.
This article first appeared in the Dundrum Gazette on Wednesday, February 19th 2014.
February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
I spoke in the Seanad yesterday regarding amendments to the Health Identifiers Bill 2013. The Health Identifiers Bill 2013 is a crucial step in modernising and transforming our health services. In fact, it’s a key component of the Government’s eHealth Strategy. With this legislation, every single patient and health service provider will be given their own unique health identifier/number that will work across the health service, both public and private.
Unique health identifiers will allow the health service to operate more efficiently and effectively. It will ensure that duplication doesn’t occur and that health records are easier to obtain. The reform will also help create a safer health service and will ensure that the right information is associated with the right individual at the point of care.
The Bill has now passed all stages in the Seanad and will be introduced in the Dáil on Thursday February 20th 2014. A copy of the eHealth Strategy for Ireland is available at http://www.dohc.ie/publications/eHealth_Strategy_2013.html
Irish Independent Op-Ed: Difficult choices will have to be made if we want to tackle our drink problem
February 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
The danger associated with excessive alcohol consumption is under the public spotlight again following at least one tragic death linked to the ‘neknomination’ craze; a crush outside a ‘Messy Mondays’ event at a Dublin night club, and an incident involving drink and drugs at a concert in Belfast on Thursday night. Understandably, the reaction has been one of sadness, concern, and condemnation of our pervasive drink culture.
Most of us agree that as a society we have a serious problem with alcohol misuse. Whether it’s condemnation of the ‘neknomination’ phenomenon, or a backlash against Arthur’s Day, we express our periodic exasperation, and sometimes fury, at the visible effects of excessive drinking. Not unreasonably, we couple this with a demand that Government should do “something” to address it.
Delivering the kind of action that will have real impact requires more than a periodic outcry. It calls for public support and the implementation of policy choices that some will find difficult, or even objectionable. There is no easy way here.
In Ireland, our collective relationship with alcohol is complex, to say the least. It is an almost indispensible social lubricant. One of our alcohol brands has become practically synonymous with our national identity, to the extent that foreign dignitaries are greeted with the iconic pint when they visit us here.
Yet we have daily reminders of the shocking harms caused by alcohol misuse, including serious illness and premature death.
The Government reflects broader society, and so it is inevitable that any policy response – or non-response – will be influenced by the ambivalent attitudes and behaviour of the public towards alcohol. And the Government also has to contend with a myriad of interests groups, including commercial concerns and significant employers, whose interests sometimes are in direct conflict with the objective of reducing the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Perhaps this is why it has taken so long for the Government to even begin the process of legislating on alcohol as a public health issue.
But this is what we have now done.
A package of measures, including provision for minimum pricing (to deal with very cheap alcohol), restrictions on marketing and advertising, regulations on labelling and health warnings, and a host of other instruments will be contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill now being drafted by the Department of Health.
Some of these measures will be controversial, and will be opposed by the drinks industry, who are of course entitled to express their views.
But given the mounting pressure for action to curb excessive drinking, I believe the public will support what we are trying to achieve – so that calls for “something” to be done can now be translated into action.
Minimum unit pricing targets drink that is cheap in price, but high in alcohol content. It won’t raise the price of every alcohol product, but dirt-cheap spirits and beer being sold at pocket-money prices would become a thing of the past.
Alcohol products will in future have to be displayed in a separate area to other products in mixed retail stores and supermarkets, making them less visible to children. We will cover this initially through a statutory code rather than through the current voluntary approach.
All alcoholic drink containers and promotional materials will have to carry compulsory health warnings as well as their calorie count. There will also be stricter regulation of the marketing and advertising of alcohol.
We do not have a final decision yet on the proposal to phase out alcohol sponsorship of major sporting events. I remain firmly convinced that this should be done, even allowing a relatively lengthy lead-in period to help sporting bodies to find new sources of funding and sponsorship.
My experience dealing with colleagues has been that each and every one of them is committed to addressing this problem. I do not criticise any minister for seeking to protect an area of activity – whether it is sport, the arts, broadcasting, newspapers, or retail. And there is an overriding concern which we all share to maintain and increase employment in our battered economy.
But choices will have to be made. As I have already argued, there is no easy way. The undoubted positive effects of many of the measures we are proposing will have negative effects on some sectors. We should certainly seek to mitigate these effects as much as we can. But we will need the courage to press ahead, because it is the right thing to do.
Otherwise we are left with the episodic outcry, the plaintive call for action, and – saddest of all – the shattered lives of so many of our friends, family members, and communities.
This article appeared in the Irish Independent on Saturday, February 8th 2014.
February 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’d like to commend the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Sports Participation Strategy which was officially launched in Fitzpatrick’s Castle Hotel recently. I was delighted to attend the launch and I want to compliment the work of the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Sports Partnership. Their five year strategy will bring all available resources together, to increase participation in physical activity and sport across the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown county.
As Minister of State at the Department of Health, I’m a keen advocate of ‘Healthy Ireland’ a Government plan which is designed to improve the health and wellbeing of our country over the coming generation.
We’re all aware of the incredible health benefits that come from keeping active and fit. Exercising regularly can prevent the onset of many illnesses and diseases.
The core objective of the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Sports Partnership is to get more people active more often. While the strategic plan is inclusive of everyone, I’m impressed that it will also target groups that traditionally have lower levels of participation in sports and physical activity including girls and women, people with a disability, disadvantaged young people and older adults.
Our communities in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown are already considerably more active than the national average. For example, figures show that 42% of people played a sport in the previous week compared with only 33% nationally. 63% of people in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown walked recreationally in the previous seven days compared with 59% nationally.
This strategy is the culmination of months of hard work and consultation between local agencies, sports clubs and stakeholders. I want to commend them for this proactive plan of action.
The Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Sports Participation Strategy will help improve the quality of life and the health and wellbeing of our local community. You can find out more about the strategy here.