Minister for Health and Children's Foreword

In every aspect of every individual's life, health is pivotal. It is the key factor in a child's development to adulthood. It is a prerequisite to the achievement of wholeness and fulfilment in adult life. It is central to a contributory and confident later life.

Health is also crucial to Ireland as a nation. Our health care system must reflect our national values: our concerns for equity, our commitment to diversity, our determination to end poverty and disadvantage. It must, as a major employer, provide a context for professionalism, growth and development at every level within the workforce.

Public health systems, worldwide, are experiencing unprecedented pressures in these, the early years of a new century. Those pressures include a quantum leap in available technology, matched by radically different expectations within the population. Our growing population and changing lifestyles create new and different needs.

It is essential, therefore, to inform the long-term development of this massive, complex system, that we have an over-arching Strategy. Such a Strategy empowers Health Boards, institutions, agencies and voluntary organisations to structure their planning in an integrated, streamlined way. In turn, this will make the best of the immeasurable human resource they represent, to share best practice across all disciplines, and to make full and transparent use of the unequalled funding this Government is committing to health.

What distinguishes this Strategy is the unique level of public consultation on which it is based. Individuals, professional groups, disciplines, voluntary organisations and state agencies all contributed significantly to the thinking manifest in the Strategy, and will continue to contribute to the management of the changes they sought.

The Strategy, at all points, envisages cross-disciplinary collaboration to achieve new standards, protocols and methods. In setting out an innovative and costed programme of massive change, as Minister for Health and Children, I have at all times stressed the involvement and influence of those who have - often under great financial constraint - constantly delivered care which, in its professionalism and humanity, is second to none.

This is a comprehensive and ambitious Strategy: a blueprint to guide policy makers and service providers towards delivery of the articulated vision. It identifies overarching goals to guide planning and activity in the health system over the next 7-10 years.

I must stress, however, that this Health Strategy is more than a considered, conceptual draft for the long-term future. In the immediate future - indeed, before the end of this year - service deficiencies and waiting lists must be, and are, addressed. Underdeveloped services must be enhanced, and the document makes specific provision for immediate enhancements.

Because of this confluence of long-term strategic planning and shorter-term tactical initiative, this Strategy will immediately benefit substantial numbers of our people, while allowing us all to observe, gain from, and contribute to, the construction of a health system which, in little more than half a decade, will be immeasurably improved and visibly different, while retaining the best of what was achieved in the last century.

signature of Minister for Health and Children