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Health manifestos are long on showy promises – but, so far, short on detail

Eye-catching promises ranging from hospital waiting lists of just six months to baby boxes for all newborns marked the first set of health manifestos from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Although health is a key battleground in the election, both parties were very short on detail. It means for now the public’s choice on election day amounts to a leap of faith.

Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said its headline pledges include:

:: A “prudent” €2bn extra in health spending over five years, which would be spent differently;

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:: Doubling the allocation to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to €200m and waiting lists of no longer than six months. Plus four new hospitals catering for waiting list patients;

:: A four-hour limit on trolley waits in A&E, and 2,600 more hospital beds;

:: Four thousand more nurses and up to 1,000 extra consultants. And an end to private practice in public hospitals.

Asked why the next government should give €200m to the NTPF and benefit private hospitals, Mr Donnelly claimed around half would buy treatments in public hospitals.

This level of investment is needed because of the “full-blown” crisis in waiting lists, he insisted.

The party will follow the direction of Sláintecare, the blueprint for the health service which aims to transfer more care to the community.

However, even at €2bn in extra spending, this will not meet the targets set out if the plan is to be rolled out over 10 years.

Mr Donnelly referred to how his party’s new vision will be achieved.

“The question most people have is how are you going to make this happen?

“We need to reset how we manage the system, how the department, the HSE and health professionals work. We need to build trust and co-operation between these groups.”

He envisaged going “hospital by hospital” and working with staff to bring about change.

The trolley crisis would be eased by properly resourcing GPs with more access to diagnostics and having emergency consultants in hospital around the clock. Asked how he would encourage consultants to take up jobs here, he said it would end the pay gap of €50,000 for new recruits and promise them the support staff and better working conditions.

The pay would be restored “no strings attached”.

Junior doctors who change jobs every six months would be exempt from emergency tax.

Questioned on whether he supports the current Government’s offer of €252,000 if consultants only treat public patients, he said this amounted to an announcement and he would talk to doctors.

They could work in private hospitals in their own time.

But he supported the plan to remove private practice from public hospitals.

Later Fine Gael launched its “major health package for children”. It promises free GP care for under-18s by 2025, removing the €80-a-day inpatient for children, and free dental care for under sixes. All newborns will get a baby box packed full of clothes, blankets, nappies and other essentials.

Health Minister Simon Harris and Environment Minister Richard Bruton costed the baby boxes at €10m. Mr Harris said his party “understands the cost faced by families caring for children”.

However, despite the pledge, agreement has yet to be reached with GPs on even the first stage of extending free visits to children under eight later this year.

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