Minister Harris’s address at the IMPACT Health and Welfare Division Conference 1st June 2017 in Clayton Whites Hotel, Wexford
** Check against delivery**
I want to start by thanking you sincerely for inviting me to speak at your Health and Welfare Division Conference here in Wexford.
I would like to particularly thank the National Secretary of IMPACT, Eamonn Donnelly, and Cathaoirleach, Maura Cahalan for giving me this opportunity to speak to you here today and to acknowledge the contribution you all make to the health service.
It is simply not possible for the health service to function without the dedication and commitment that you bring to performing all of your different roles to the consistently high standard that you do so that we can put the resources we have to the best use possible. I know that you might often feel that your work goes unsung but I want to assure you that it does not go unnoticed.
Against a backdrop of significant reform, constant change, greater demand for accountability and performance, and ever-increasing regulatory requirements, I would like to thank the health service managers and their administrative staff for playing their part in keeping the show on the road, especially during the general moratorium.
You and your teams bring all the different parts of the system together to deliver services for patients. The health service needs capable, committed, motivated and experienced people to deliver on day-to-day management and to provide the leadership and change management so critical to meeting the increasing demands on our health service.
I believe that failure to respect, value, support and invest in managers will result in recruitment and retention challenges for this critical cohort of staff and this would have wider implications for the safe and effective delivery of health services.
I also have huge respect for the roles played by our therapists, audiologists, pharmacists and our social workers. It is the work performed to high levels by these professionals that enable our health service to fully function effectively as part of the wider system. It is these roles that support and strengthen the health service by enabling the patient to rehabilitate and to regain their independence so they can return to their normal lives as soon as possible.
It is just one year since I took up office as the Minister for Health and, while we continue to face significant challenges that we must address together, I am pleased that I can reflect on some positive achievements so far:
– Developing our new National Cancer Strategy for the next decade.
– Publishing the National Standards for Bereavement Care following pregnancy loss and perinatal death and the first ever HIQA Standards for maternity services.
– Extending the vaccine immunisation programme
– Making Orkambi and Kalydeco available for adults and children with Cystic Fibrosis.
– Negotiating a very good deal with IPHA on the cost of medicines, leading to savings of hundreds of millions of euro which will be reinvested in health and specifically in new and innovative drugs.
– Making things a little bit easier for parents of children with a disability, by providing children in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance with full medical cards.
– Making sure that prescription charges for 390,000 people over 70 and their dependants were reduced.
– Publishing and implementing our first ever National Obesity Strategy.
This week also sees us at the end of two weeks of intense negotiations on a successor agreement to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. These talks followed on from the publication of the report by the Public Service Commission on public sector pay. The talks are, of course, addressing the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation which saw cuts to public sector pay in recent years.
The good news is that public finances have now stabilised with a reduction in the underlying deficit from 11.5% in 2009 to less than 1% in 2016. Economic conditions have improved markedly in recent years, thanks to careful and prudent management at a time of great challenge. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution made to this improvement by you as public servants.
With public service exchequer pay at 31% of current expenditure, a critical factor in any future pay agreement is the State’s ability to pay in the context of competing pressures on the public purse. It is however my firm belief that a good deal can be reached for all the negotiating parties.
Future of Healthcare Committee
Looking ahead, one of my main goals on becoming Minister for Health was to develop a long term vision for the Irish health service. The cross-party Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare was established in recognition of the growing need for the development of a political and societal consensus around this long-term vision.
In March, I had the opportunity to convey to the committee my view that the Hospital Groups and Community Health Organisations would perform better if they were geographically aligned and, as they develop, have greater devolved decision making and accountability.
I also endorse the provision of a statutory basis for Hospital and Community Health Organisations which would operate as integrated delivery systems within these geographic areas. I have made clear my views that the HSE should be replaced with a ‘slimmed down body’ that is more equipped to lead than to directly control, and with fewer management layers between the top and the front line.
I want to ensure that our health service is fully resourced with the right people with the required skills and expertise, who can offer the benefits of their experience in our health service whilst also allowing for a fresh approach and new ideas to be implemented as appropriate. I think that if we all work together we can achieve this in the future.
I am pleased to say that the report of the committee was published on Tuesday of this week setting out this unprecedented cross-party consensus on the vision and future direction of health policy and makes a series of recommendations to reform our health service.
The next stage of this process will see the Government and the Oireachtas considering the report in detail before making crucial decisions on the way forward to improving our health service once and for all for each and every one of us.
The publication of this report has brought us closer to relieving the severe pressures on our health service by building a better, more integrated health service, by reducing the unacceptable waiting times for public patients and by improving the outcomes for the most important person at the heart of the service which is, of course, the patient.
I recognise that capacity in the broadest sense, encompassing both the workforce and physical structures, must be addressed. We need to resolve the problems we face in a planned, realistic, achievable and sustainable way, one that won’t deviate with every election, to the detriment of the health system and the service users. We will take the opportunity now to plan a strategic approach in addressing the major issues that face our health system and then we will see the medium to long term benefits.
I believe that the work of the Committee provides us with a once-in-a-generation chance to achieve this and I look forward to considering their recommendations in detail with my cabinet colleagues before a full Dáil debate on the report in June.
Finally, I would like to say again, thank you for welcoming me here today to speak to you. Thank you for your vital work and dedication to the health service. I know you have a full programme ahead of you so it only remains for me to wish you a successful and productive conference.