Mixed response to Budget 2023

More than €23 billion will be invested in health and social care services in Ireland next year, the Government has announced as part of Budget 2023.

New measures to be introduced include the abolishment of adult in-patient hospital charges from April 1, while on the same date the eligibility for GP access cards will be extended to people who earn the median household income of €46,000 or less – an extra half a million people.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly described the record health spending as facilitating ‘better access to affordable, high-quality healthcare for people at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is impacting on everyone’.

However, GP groups have expressed concern over the announcement at a time when primary care services face significant workforce shortages.

“We cannot ignore the fact that expanding free GP care will inevitably mean longer waiting times for patients’ appointments with GPs, at a time of huge workforce and workload pressures,” Chairman of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Dr John Farrell said.

A recent ICGP survey showed that just one-fifth of GP practices have capacity to take on new patients under the General Medical Services scheme.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) echoed these concerns, emphasising that capacity planning should be put in place before any expansion in free GP services can be introduced.

In a statement the IMO said: “Giving someone a Doctor Visit Card will not automatically translate into an accessible service when that service is already struggling to cope with current demand. This is not good news for patients as we will now have to accept that, just like the NHS, longer waiting lists will become the reality.”

Elsewhere, the National Infertility Support and Information Group (NISIG) has welcomed the announcement that public funding for IVF treatment will be introduced in Ireland in September 2023.

Chairperson of NISIG Caitríona Fitzpatrick said that her charity is ready to assist in the funding rollout: “We appreciate this is not an easy task as all treatment currently takes place in private clinics in Ireland and many people also go abroad. However, we are ready to work with the Department and HSE in helping make this funding announcement a reality for everyone who needs it in 2023.”

The removal of VAT on defibrillators was also broadly supported, while heart charity Croí welcomed measures to improve access to diagnostic services, such as echocardiography, spirometry and natriuretic peptide blood tests.

Commenting on plans to invest €47 million to facilitate GP access to these tests, Paul Nolan, Clinical Lecturer at ATU Sligo said: “Allocated funding for GP direct access to echocardiography is very welcome, but to be successful, proactive workforce planning and development needs to be undertaken urgently. Given the current prolonged waiting times for this vital test, reduction of those wait times and provision of direct GP access can only be met by addressing the workforce deficiencies.”

Other health measures announced in the Budget include additional once-off supports to nursing homes and hospices from a special €100 million fund to address the soaring energy costs facing the sector this winter. Free contraception has also been expanded for women aged 16 to 30.

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