I thank Deputy Heydon for this important question. The report of the independent review group established to examine the role of voluntary organisations in publicly funded health and personal social services was published by me in February this year. It makes 24 recommendations covering areas such as the governance of voluntary organisations; dialogue, engagement and contractual processes between the State and the voluntary sector; ethos, asset ownership and public capital investment; and broader issues related to health system development.
The recommendations are grounded in two key overarching findings. First, the report recognises, as does the Deputy, the important contribution voluntary organisations make and concluded that they should continue to play an integral role in the delivery of health and social care services. Second, it found a high level of mutual interdependence between the State and voluntary organisations and called for the development of a stronger relationship based on trust and partnership.
I fully agree with and endorse the findings. Voluntary organisations have an important role to play in the delivery of health services. I have already signalled my commitment to further strengthen the relationship between the State and voluntary organisations but I also think I have an important role, as does the Government and the Oireachtas, in setting out policy. It is a relationship that must mutually respect the responsibilities of each other.
As a first step, I have given approval for the establishment of a new dialogue process between the Department, the HSE and other relevant health agencies and representatives of voluntary organisations in the health and social care sector, as was recommended in the report. My Department is currently designing this process, including its terms of reference, membership and other practical considerations, and will be engaging with voluntary sector representative organisations in that regard.
I believe that this new dialogue process can provide a forum for engaging more effectively with voluntary organisations on key policies and initiatives. I also believe it can provide a forum for taking forward other recommendations in the report such as those relating to governance, but perhaps more importantly, it can provide the platform for developing greater levels of trust and partnership across the system. This must be a two-way process with recognition of the respective roles and mutual dependencies of both sides.
There is also a broad range of other recommendations in the report that are under consideration. The good news is that many of themes align with the Sláintecare programme and will be taken forward in that context. Some require collaboration with other Departments such as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and that work is ongoing.