Universal health care as crisis response

Image by Neil Harrington from Pixabay

This case study is part of a Local Democracy Research Centre paper on global health inequalities. Read Still unequal: dealing with health inequalities through the pandemic and beyond

In Ireland, although the country is regarded as among the most resilient in dealing with the pandemic and health care has benefited from significant investment in recent years, there remain huge differences in health outcomes between the public and private systems. Like other countries, Covid-19 has exacerbated previous inequalities. The European Anti-Poverty Network in Ireland (EAPN Irl) highlights the challenges confronting Ireland in its submission to the Irish Government where it indicates that ”The COVID-19 pandemic has served to augment inequality in Ireland and all across Europe.” Specifically in regard to health, those dependent upon the public health system which was already struggling with addressing the higher levels of poorer health among those suffering from poverty, have found that the pandemic has re-enforced these inequalities with a historical increase in waiting times and queues to access health care”:

The Covid-19 pandemic has served to augment inequality in Ireland and all across Europe. Those who were living below the poverty line prior to the pandemic are experiencing greater negative impacts from the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the experiences of those living in consistent poverty and those within marginalised communities, those experiencing income inadequacy, educational inequality, the homelessness crisis, the place of low paid worker in providing front line supports and services during a pandemic, (putting themselves and their families at risk), members of the Travelling Community and Migrant communities, as well as people living in Direct Provision.

This view was underpinned by the EU Country Report on Health for Ireland 2020. It stated that Ireland must “improve accessibility of the health system and strengthen its resilience, including by responding to health workforce’s needs and ensuring universal coverage to primary care.” The EAPN Irl consequently called for a significant shift in public policy towards, an already agreed in political terms, a universal system which would reduce the considerable disparities between public and private health care.

”Universal health care is part of Ireland’s crisis response to managing and mitigating the most negative impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic but also ensuring a sustainable recovery and enabling people from all communities to partake in Irish society to the fullest capacity.”

The EAPN Irl has recommended to the government that the acceleration of  the implementation of proposed health reforms in a move towards a single tiered universal health care system should seek to  ”facilitate affordable, quality, and efficient access to health services, with a focus on reducing health inequalities for those on low incomes and within marginalised communities.”


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