Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Hospital charges are to be abolished by April under a proposal being brought before Cabinet on Tuesday.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is seeking approval from minister for draft legislation that would scrap the fees.
The charge for inpatient/day services is currently €80 per day, with a maximum of €800, or 10 days, over a year.
The move was included in Budget 2023, and is expected to cost €30 million.
Mr Donnelly told RTÉ Radio One: “What I’m seeking this morning from Cabinet is agreement to bring in the legislation. I want to bring it to the Oireachtas in March and have it in place in April.”
He has also pledged to extend free GP care to children aged six and seven, and to expand the free contraception scheme to people aged 30 and under – it is currently available to people aged up to 26.
After a report by the Mental Health Commission into child mental health services found that some children are becoming lost in the system and that follow-up care is not at standard, Mr Donnelly said action is being taken.
He said he and Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler are looking at a recommendation to regulate the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) under the Mental Health Act.
“It’s calling for the Mental Health Act to be brought in quickly, and minister Butler and I are looking at that, reflecting on the interim report,” Mr Donnelly said, adding that he wants to see the final report which is due by May.
“One of the reasons there is so much pressure on the system right now is that since Covid, there’s been a 33 per cent increase in referrals to youth mental health,” he added.
“The system has responded well in terms of increasing the number of new patients seen by 21 per cent, but a one-third increase in demand in a very short period of time has put the system under immense pressure.”
He said the national clinical lead and the assistant national director roles “will be put in place now”, and a new consultant contract will make it “easier for the HSE to hire psychiatrists”.