Health minister outlines 10-year plan

Simon Harris promises long-term strategy unhindered by political events

New health minister Simon Harris TD has announced his 10-year vision for the Irish health service, promising a “singular plan” that will provide “a direction of travel regardless of political events”.

In his first announcement as minister for health, Harris set out his intention to establish an Oireachtas Committee to develop a cross-party consensus on the future of the health service.

He said: “The public and the people who work so hard in our health service have no lack of appetite for reform but they are certainly fatigued by piecemeal reforms that don’t really change anything and by the shifting priorities that come with political change.

“The work of this committee can mean that the public and those working in the service can have a sense of certainty that there is a long-term strategy agreed by political consensus, and hopefully, societal consensus, that will not change no matter what the makeup of the next Dail.”

In the run-up to February’s general election, Harris’s party Fine Gael was the only party that made mention of dentistry in its manifesto. The party promised to introduce a dental health package for under sixes, including advice for children under 18 months, wellness checks and appropriate treatment between three and six years.

It also pledged to restore the Dental Treatment Benefit scheme as part of its reform of PRSI so that patients will be reimbursed the cost of “some dental treatments”. Finally, the party promised to introduce a preventive dental health package for medical card holders including examination, cancer screening, scaling and polishing, any necessary preventive treatment, radiographs and prescription.

Dr Gregg Barry from Docklands Dental in Dublin said: “Given the short-sighted cutbacks to patients services under the medical card and PRSI entitlements in 2010, a change in priority for the provision of dental services is essential for the new government.

“I am optimistic that Minister Simon Harris will follow through on Fine Gael’s election promises and move to increase funding and re-organise patient schemes that are collapsing under the demand being placed on them.

“The medical card and PRSI dental schemes are failing in their original aims to place an emphasis on disease prevention and this has resulted in a crisis in irish dentistry with increasing numbers of patients on long-term antibiotics and seeking treatment for severe dental infections.”