Broadside at medics was unwise – but it was not without basis
A short analysis in Irish Independent on 16 October 2014.
Once again, Leo Varadkar calls it as he sees it. The Minister for Health, defending the increased allocation to health in Budget 2015, said “one of the biggest differences I’m experiencing between tourism and sport, and health, is that the interest groups in tourism and sport want you to succeed – you’d kind of wonder sometimes if that’s the case in health”.
This reference, made on Breakfast Newstalk yesterday, was largely directed at his own profession – medical doctors. Probably not a wise move, but it must be what Leo thinks. And he might not be wrong.
Health policy and decisions about health services have always been riddled with vested interests – unions representing doctors, nurses and staff, the all-powerful pharmaceutical industry, private businesses (be they pharmacists or privately practising medics. In health, perhaps more so than any other sphere of public life, the public interest collides with the private gain of others.
The only previous attempt in Irish history to introduce universal health care for women and children, the 1951 Mother and Child Scheme, was effectively foiled by the forceful resistance of both doctors and the Catholic Church.
As Minister for Health, one of Leo’s unenviable tasks is to listen to and negotiate, directly and indirectly, with these vested interests and – in all instances – to operate in the public interest.
This week’s budget was in the public interest. Leo did not get all the money he wanted or needed for health.
The one-off €330m windfall and €130m “savings” are loosely calculated, but out of the €13.1bn budget which has increased year-on-year, the arithmetic largely adds up.
The new minister managed to get a little bit more for health next year and – critically – he has turned the health budget allocation in the right direction.
Now Leo needs to work at getting the interest groups on board so that he can succeed and so that money can be well spent.