Current health policy is informed by the health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, which is underpinned by the guiding principles of equity, people-focus, quality and accountability. The Government is committed to sustaining and improving health service developments and to reforming the way in which the health service works so that funding is used efficiently and effectively for the purposes intended. Within this overall context, I will give priority to supporting those who need to access the health care they require.
With a view to ensuring that acute hospital services meet the needs of patients in a timely and effective manner, my focus is on the reduction of waiting lists and waiting times for inpatient and day-case treatments. This initiative is being facilitated by the national treatment purchase fund. I am also committed to tackling the problems in accident and emergency departments. Among the initiatives undertaken to date to assist in dealing with this issue is that of facilitating the discharge of patients, notably elderly, from acute hospitals to more appropriate settings. I am concerned that the elderly should receive appropriate care either in a residential setting or in their own homes.
Another priority is the improvement of cancer services and my intention is to build on the considerable investment made since 1997 in the development of such services. In line with the programme for Government, I am committed to extending medical card eligibility to more people on low incomes.
The general question of services for those with a disability is also a priority. Under the recently published Disability Bill 2004, my Department has published an outline sectoral plan in respect of the specific health and personal social services provided for people with disabilities. This is an interim plan designed to encompass a programme of work, which is to be undertaken over the next 12 to 18 months. The main aspects of this programme are related to the provisions contained in the Disability Bill 2004, together with a strategic review of the services as a whole.
The programme of reform of the health service announced by the Government in June 2003 is now well underway. This initiative will result in the consolidation of a multiplicity of different structures within a single agency, the health service executive. Additionally, with a view to achieving the aim of the delivery of high quality health services that are based on evidence-supported best practice, the health information and quality authority will be established on a statutory basis.
The board of the Interim Health Service Executive was appointed in late 2003 and the Interim Health Service Executive was established on a statutory basis in March 2004. The Interim Health Service Executive is charged with drawing up a plan, for my approval, for the establishment of a unified management structure for the proposed new health service executive. It is also making plans for the smooth transition from the current structures to the new HSE structure.
I will soon be bringing forward legislation to give effect to the health reform programme.