Varadkar defends hospital fines plan
Health Minister Leo Varadkar defended the controversial plan to fine hospitals which fail to meet waiting list targets - despite fears it leaves them struggling even more to treat patients on time.
"I am hoping the hospitals won't be fined, because they will do what we ask them to do," he said of the scheme aimed at reducing waiting times for surgery and outpatient appointments.
The money taken from the hospital will be given to another hospital or hospital group, which will be asked to look after the patients instead, he insisted.
A formula for how this will actually work in practice has yet to be revealed, and many senior consultants are sceptical of how fair it will be given the pressures some hospitals face due to catering to an older and sicker population, or high attendances at emergency departments.
"You have to have a system of incentives or disincentives," he said.
Earlier, Mr Varadkar would not be drawn on how much additional funding the health service will get in the Budget. However, he indicated substantial sums will also have been spoken for due to the full-year roll-out cost of the free GP visits scheme for children under six and all people over 70.
Questioned on the nursing shortages which are affecting hospitals and nursing homes he said he believed the majority of this year's nursing graduates will stay here to work.
Hospitals are being allowed to offer them flexible contracts because many nurses do not want to be tied into long-term commitments, he added.
Meanwhile, Dublin's Mater hospital is expecting significant demand at its A&E over the weekend because of the amount of sporting action which will bring more people into the city.
Traditionally, the hospital sees a 30pc increase in demand for its services during major sporting events. It has asked all non-critically ill patients to contact their GP before going to the emergency department.