A new structure will be created to replace the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council, the Health Minister has said amid questions about Government commitment to universal healthcare.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Health Committee on Wednesday, Stephen Donnelly said a new board will be formed that will be co-chaired by secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt and HSE chief executive Paul Reid.

Concerns have been raised about the future of the initiative aimed at introducing universal healthcare in Ireland after it was hit by a number of high-profile resignation.

 

Gastroenterologist Professor Anthony O’Connor confirmed he had left the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council (SIAC) last week, following chairman Dr Tom Keane and executive director Laura Magahy out the door.

Mr Donnelly told the committee he regrets the resignations.

He also said he is “committed” to introducing universal healthcare in Ireland.

“That commitment is absolute and unwavering,” he said.

“Universal healthcare has never been achieved in Ireland, and we are still far from it today. Changing that, making universal healthcare a reality, is one of the defining projects of our time.”

He said tackling long waiting lists is a “number one priority”.

Stephen Donnelly said he is ‘committed’ to introducing universal healthcare (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “They were terrible before Covid and have worsened since. People are living in pain. The long waits that many of our citizens face in order to access care are causing immense distress.”

He said that a taskforce will now try to address the pressing issue and will be modelled on Ireland’s vaccine taskforce that planned and delivered the Covid jab rollout.

Mr Donnelly insisted that parts of the Sláintecare programme are progressing.

“There will always be people who will only focus on the negative and what they believe can’t be done,” he told the committee.

“Eight months ago, we were lambasted by some for saying we wanted at least 70 per cent of our adult population offered a vaccine by the end of September.

“Our health service proved them wrong. We are ambitious. Change and reform is always challenging, but we are up for that challenge.”