Thursday 23 March 2017

Harney sharpens axe in hunt for €1bn health cuts

Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

PUBLIC patients on hospital waiting lists are expected to feel some of the worst impact of crippling cuts that are set to spiral to €1bn next year.

Health Minister Mary warned that the search for at least €600m to €1bn in cuts would prove the biggest challenge yet for the health service because public pay cannot be touched.

"I want to make it clear that it won't be easy.

"There's no easy way to take that kind of money out," she said.

Ms Harney said the majority of the €14bn of Health Service Executive (HSE) budget went on salaries, which are ring-fenced under the Croke Park agreement with the unions.

The minister refused to state where exactly the axe would fall.

Closures

However, it is expected hospitals which struggled with cuts in funding this year will have to implement bed and theatre closures, which in turn will hit patients on waiting lists for operations and other procedures.

The squeeze on hiring staff -- already at critical levels in some areas -- will be tightened even further, leaving areas such as mental health services and maternity hospitals struggling.

Home-help hours are expected to have to be cut, while extra hospital charges for an overnight stay and A&E care which were put on hold in last year's Budget are expected to face substantial hikes in December.

The minister revealed the stark financial outlook at a conference on health service funding organised by the ESRI economic think tank.

Experts warned her against imposing "quick-fix cuts", arguing these carried risks which resulted in greater damage over time.

Professor Frances Ruane of the ESRI, who chaired the recent expert group report on funding the health service, appealed to the minister to look for savings in areas which would not hurt patients such as drug costs

Prof Ruane said the €1bn in savings could also be partly made by changing work practices in hospitals and treating more patients on a daycase basis.

Irish Independent

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