Brief for Minister for Health

Introduction

Ireland is recognised as a global medtech hub with 18 of the world’s top 25 companies in the industry having a base here. Ireland is first for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Europe and annual exports are worth more than 10% of Irish exports, at €12.6 billion. There are as many as 450 medtech businesses employing people in every Irish constituency, with 80% being SMEs or start-ups, and 60% being home-grown.

The manufacturing of food and drink products is Ireland's most important indigenous industry with a turnover approaching €24 billion and 250,000 jobs linked to the sector. It produces safe, high quality and sustainable food and drink for consumers in Ireland and 180 other countries. It accounts for almost half the direct expenditure by the entire manufacturing sector in the Irish economy.

The following is a set of priorities from business for the Minister for Health. They are intended to help us all work together to drive a new era that will be good for patients’ health; good for healthcare and food companies; good for employment, particularly in rural Ireland and its regional cities; and good for the Irish economy.

 

Business priorities and solutions


1. Make Ireland’s healthcare infrastructure world class

Why?

Healthcare systems globally are increasingly challenged by greater demands for services in the face of diminishing fiscal resources. The adoption of innovative processes and solutions within the health system would support improved patient outcomes with big data driving more clinical decision making for better results.


How?

The Minister should:

  • ensure the adoption in hospitals of the latest information systems, the newest innovations and technologies, as well as learn from best-in-class business models.


2. Promote a culture of innovation leadership within the Irish healthcare system


Why?

The Government must do more to leverage recent investments and reward a culture that promotes innovation. The level of clinical investigations taking place in Ireland is currently low given the high number of medtech businesses based here. A robust clinical research infrastructure would benefit patients and help attract more FDI as well as international talent.


How?
The Minister should:

  • invest in world class facilities for R&D across medical schools, research centres and hospitals
  • incentivise clinical-industry engagement to support commercialisation of novel innovations
  • ensure the Knowledge Development Box supports different ways of generating intellectual property (IP).


3. Reduce healthcare costs by adding value

Why?

The ability to adopt new and advanced technologies is essential for best practice in patient care. There is an opportunity for Ireland to become an ‘early adopter’ of medical technology as a measurement of best practice in modern, international, healthcare systems. This should be reflected in a change to public procurement which is done strategically by adopting innovative technology that focuses on value to patients, rather than short term costs.


How?
The Minister should:

  • adopt a procurement process that promotes long-term quality results over short-term costs
  • give hospitals and patients more choice by making it easier for SMEs to tender for contracts.


4. Help medtech business win


Why?

The medtech sector is committed to an ecosystem of regulatory excellence focused on patient care and safety, as already evidenced by the world-class reputation of the sector. It is vital that Ireland remains an attractive and competitive place for companies, from SMEs and start-ups to multinational corporations. It is in the best interests of the Irish medtech sector that a fair pan-European approach to funding medtech regulatory activity is agreed.

 

How? The Minister should:

  • ensure a centralised and equitable pan-European approach to fund medtech regulatory activity as an alternative to non-harmonised national fee models to support medical device regulatory activities being implemented across Europe.

 

5. The reformulation to reduce fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and calories

Why?

Food and drink companies in Ireland are committed to improving the health of the nation through reformulating products to reduce fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar; while maintaining the highest standards of product safety, integrity and taste.

 

In the first Food Drink Ireland Reformulation Project report, launched by the then Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD, 600 products from 14 of Ireland’s major food and drink companies were analysed, demonstrating over a seven year (2005 – 2012) period salt content reduction of 37%; sugar content reduction of 14%; a reduction of energy by 12% (as measured in calories sold); and fat and saturated fat intake reduced by approximately 10%.

 

The work by the industry must be supported by the Minister for Health if, together, we will continue to have a significant and positive impact on the diet of Irish consumers. 

 

How?
The Minister should:

  • continue to support and engage with future Food Drink Ireland reformulation projects
  • establish a National Reformulation Technical Working Group, but avoid setting arbitrary targets for further reduction of fat, sugar and salt which would put companies which have already undertaken considerable reformulation programmes at an effective disadvantage due to inevitable diminishing returns
  • offer Food Drink Ireland a central role in the National Reformulation Technical Working Group
  • use evidence-based methods, outcomes and targets when setting public policy and public health measures.


6. Reconsider the introduction of a sugar sweetened drink tax

 

Why?

The Department of Health’s own Health Impact Assessment of the proposed tax showed that a sugar sweetened drinks tax would reduce overweight and obesity by just 0.3% in Ireland. [1]

The challenges of Brexit faced by the food and drink sector point to the need to support, rather than tax, the Irish food and drink industry. A sugar-sweetened drinks tax would be an additional tax on soft drinks, to which VAT already applies. And a sugar sweetened tax would lead to a likely increase in cross-border trade and the black/grey markets, which would damage Irish businesses and jobs as well as making the tax-take highly unstable.

 

How?
The Minister for Health should:

  • levy no additional tax on soft drinks
  • concentrate on the public health measures of proven efficacy such as sugar reduction through product reformulation
  • not impose an undue burden on business if the sugar-sweetened drinks tax is introduced. If such a tax is introduced, there should be a sufficient lead-in time; be clear and measurable targets; and provision for reviews and sunset clauses.


7. Tackle alcohol misuse sensibly

 

Why?

Alcohol consumption has declined by almost 20% since 2001 in Ireland. More than half of those surveyed in 2015 drink alcohol less frequently than once a week[2], and there has been a decline in the numbers engaged in binge drinking.


Despite substantial evidence of real reductions in alcohol misuse, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has been introduced following little or no engagement with industry. 

Measures in the Bill will:

  • threaten jobs in an industry that employs 90,000 people, generates €3 billion in GDP annually, and €1.1 billion in exports
  • increase cross-border shopping
  • stifle entrepreneurship, innovation and new product development by severely restricting advertising and marketing; negatively impact rural Ireland.


How?

The Minister for Health should:

  • review the DKM report[3] (commissioned by ABFI which represents the sector within Ibec) that conducted a rigorous socio-economic impact assessment on the Bill
  • consider the context of the long term downward trend in alcohol consumption and youth drinking in Ireland
  • consider the lack of evidence of the effectiveness of the proposed measures in the Bill
  • place the existing strict advertising codes agreed with the Department of Health on a statutory footing  and work with industry collaboratively in tackling alcohol misuse in an innovative way.

 

About Ibec

Ibec is Ireland's largest and most influential business representative. We proudly speak on behalf of 7,500 Irish businesses; home grown, multinational, big and small, spanning every sector of the economy and employing 70% of the private sector workforce in Ireland. Together with our 40+ trade associations, we lobby government and policy makers nationally and internationally to maintain a positive climate for business and drive economic growth. Our policy is shaped by our members through the work of our board, national council, policy committees and trade associations.  We regularly produce market leading industry and business events, positions on issues impacting business, economic research, forecasts and analysis. We also provide a wide range of professional services and management training to members on all aspects of human resource management, occupational health and safety, employee relations and employment law.  With 200 staff in 6 offices around Ireland as well as an office in Brussels and connections in the U.K. and Washington, Ibec communicates the Irish business voice to key stakeholders at home and abroad.

 



[1] Proposed Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax: Health Impact Assessment, Technical Report, Institute of Public Health in Ireland, p. 138.

[2] The Healthy Ireland Survey 2015, commissioned by the Department of Health.

[3] Socio-Economic Impacts of Proposed Regulations under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill; Final Report to the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, 13 February 2017. (www.abfi.ie)

 

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