'Funding the biggest challenge for health system'

UCC's Brian Turner to tell Health Summit preventive medicine would make funding go further

11th January, 2018
Brian Turner, Lecturer in the Department of Economics, Cork University Business School, University College Cork

What's your name?

Brian Turner

What position do you hold?

Lecturer in the Department of Economics, Cork University Business School, University College Cork

How long have you held the position?

Since 2005 (on a part-time basis until 2008, while I was studying for my PhD)

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

These would be broadly categorised into teaching, research, external engagement and administration. In addition to lecturing modules on health economics, insurance economics and econometrics, I am also co-director of the Postgraduate Diploma in Health Economics Practice, an online programme designed to give participants a grounding in the use of economic decision-making in the health sector, which is becoming ever more important. My research mostly focuses on health insurance, health system financing and the Irish health system, and I have written about these, and presented on them, for academic and non-academic audiences. In that regard, I consider the external engagement side of the job to be very important, in terms of bringing research-based findings to a wider audience.

What is your professional background?

Having graduated with a Masters in economics in 1994, I spent five years in London working as a property analyst for a chartered surveying firm, Hillier Parker (now part of CBRE). In 1999, I moved to Dublin to take up a position as Head of Research for Hamilton Osborne King (now Savills). In 2002, I joined the Health Insurance Authority, the statutory regulatory body for the health insurance industry in Ireland, as Head of Research/Technical Services. Then in 2005, I returned to UCC as a full-time student to fulfil a long-held ambition of obtaining a PhD. I’ve been in the Department of Economics since then.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

There’s a reason very few people know these things! Alright so, I’ll relent. When I lived in Dublin, I played softball with a club called the Blazzers (who wear the double-z with pride). The first time I played for the club, I struck out swinging, so my nickname in the club became Swipe. (My batting average improved after that!)

You are speaking at the 2018 Health Summit. What are you speaking about?

I’ll be speaking about the funding of the Sláintecare proposals.

What challenges do you see for the healthcare sector in Ireland?

One of the biggest challenges I see is funding the system into the future. The Irish health system was under-funded for decades relative to other countries, so it will take a long time to compensate for that. However, there is a view among some policy-makers that, because our health spending is quite high now, we should expect a top-notch system. It doesn’t quite work like that. It’s a bit like suggesting that Brian Cody is a pretty average hurling manager just because Kilkenny were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the league last year and didn’t even make the quarter-finals of the championship. History matters. (And Brian Cody is probably the best manager the game has ever seen!)

Part of the problem with the Irish system is that, as a result of factors such as high (by international standards) GP charges for a majority of the population and significant waiting times for hospital treatment for many public patients, the system is dealing with patients at a later stage of illness, which in some cases means they need more intensive – and expensive – treatment. If these issues were dealt with, and patients seen at an earlier stage of illness (or even before illnesses occur – preventive medicine), then the system would be able to make its funding go further.

Capacity issues are also going to become more acute if they are not dealt with now. We need more hospital beds, more doctors and nurses to staff them, more GPs, the list goes on. And as our population grows and ages, the need for additional capacity will become even greater, even if the health system is reformed in the ways envisaged by the Sláintecare report (these reforms may change the distribution of where the additional capacity is needed).

Where would you like to see the health service in 10 years’ time?

I would like to see a properly funded system, with sufficient capacity both in primary care and hospital settings, treating patients at an earlier stage of illness and in the most appropriate care setting. I would like to see a system that is attractive to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Above all, I would like to see a system in which the public at large has confidence.

Brian Turner is appearing at The 14th National Health Summit. The agenda and further details for this important national event, at Croke Park on February 8th, is available at healthsummit.ie

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