HEALTH BOARDS FACE THE AXE; Secret Plans for One 'Super-Authority' Revealed
THE government is considering scrapping the country's health boards in the most radical shake-up in the history of the state.
The dramatic move, aimed at cutting waiting lists and bureaucracy, could see the 10 regional boards replaced by a single body.
This super-authority would run all the country's hospitals, a top government source has confirmed.
The Cabinet is believed to be seriously looking at the move in a bid to tackle the health crisis in the run-up to the election.
The Opposition has already identified health as the key issue for voters in the poll set for late spring.
Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy has made it clear he is unhappy with the way money earmarked for health is being spent.
But Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has pointed out that health spending has doubled in the last four years to more than pounds 5billion in 2000.
And yet nearly 27,000 people were waiting for hospital treatment in June.
The government's seven-year plan for reforming the health service is to go before the Cabinet next week.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was a "very broad-ranging" review.
She said: "It focuses on most topics right across the health service, from hospital waiting lists to accident and emergency treatment."
And she confirmed that health board representatives had sat on the working groups drawing up the draft plan.
Eight regional health boards were set up in 1972 to replace local bodies made up of councillors.
Last year the Eastern Health Board was split into three smaller units.
Under the plans on the Cabinet table, these ten boards could be replaced by regional bodies with reduced powers.
The leak comes after speculation Minister McCreevy had been refusing to provide a bigger health budget without major reforms.
But although Mr Ahern recently indicated that health would be one of the winners in December budgets, the purse strings are tightening in the global economic slowdown. …