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Implementing social health insurance in Ireland: Report of a meeting and workshop held in Dublin, on December 6th 2010

DCU School of Nursing
Publication Date
  • Epidemiology
  • Management
  • Public Administration
  • Health Services Research
  • Health Insurance
  • Design
  • Political Science
  • Psychology


We considered two basic questions, 'Is it possible to implement Social Health Insurance in Ireland?', and 'How can this be done?'. Can Social Health Insurance be implemented in Ireland? Our answer is a very definite yes. Furthermore, there would be many opportunities, while working towards this end, to improve the performance of our health care system. How can it be implemented? This process will need to be actively managed. There are many difficulties in the Irish health services, but also many opportunities. The greatest strengths are the talented, well-trained and very committed staff. Getting and keeping the support of these staff, for the necessary changes in service delivery, will be critical. Ireland has the capacity to make these changes, but without high quality management, a detailed focussed plan for change, and political support, little will happen. Each step in the change needs to be planned to maintain services, improve service delivery, improve service accountability, and improve service governance. Each sector of the service will need someone to lead the change, and mind that service during the change. Primary care remains under-developed. The HSE plan to develop primary care teams (PCT) has not succeeded. There are several established PCTs which work well. In other areas there are informal arrangements for collaboration, which work well. Overall, there are many useful lessons to learn from the experience so far. Future developments will need to place general practice at the centre of primary care. The mechanisms for doing this will vary from place to place, but need to be developed urgently. Acute hospitals face a crisis of governance. Maurice Hayes' (1) recent report on Tallaght hospital gives an idea of the scale of the changes needed. Tallaght is, we believe, not atypical, and is reputed to be by no means the worst governed hospital in the system. This, alone, should provide a pressing motive for change. Redesigning Irish hospitals to a new mission of supporting primary care, of supporting care in the community where possible can, and must, be done. Long-term care for older people is also a challenge. We advise moving to an integrated needs based system with smooth transitions between different degrees of support at home, and different degrees of support in specialized housing facilities including nursing homes. A similar model should apply to other forms of long-term care, for example for people with a substantial disability. Information systems and management processes both need a major overhaul. The health service remains strikingly under-managed, and fixing this will need a substantial culture change within the services. Wide use of standardized formal project management processes will be vital. There is a separate plan being developed to improve health service IT systems, and implementing this needs to be a high priority. We have not considered other key sectors, for example mental health, disability services, and social services. This does not mean that these are unimportant, merely that we had limited time, and a great deal to cover.

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