Minister under fire over 'fast-tracked' hospital upgrades
Published 28/01/2013 | 05:00
HEALTH Minister James Reilly is under fresh pressure over prioritising health projects after it emerged he fast-tracked hospital upgrades in the constituencies of two of his cabinet colleagues.
A hospital in Environment Minister Phil Hogan's Kilkenny constituency and one in Wexford, Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin's constituency, were also announced locally by the ministers unbeknownst to the HSE board.
Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, who also sits at the cabinet table, is understood to have pushed Wexford's case to Dr Reilly too.
Fianna Fail said it showed the ministers used the HSE capital budget as a "slush fund" for constituency gain, while Sinn Fein called the latest details "damning in the extreme".
It comes in the wake of Dr Reilly being engulfed in controversy last year after he bumped two towns in his own constituency up a priority list of primary care centres.
And new records released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal Dr Reilly requested the hospitals in Mr Howlin, Mr Kehoe and Mr Hogan's back yards be "accelerated in the HSE's capital programme".
The developments were an emergency department and maternity unit in Wexford General Hospital, and an emergency department, an emergency assessment unit and day services unit, named after Susie Long, the health campaigner who died of cancer, in St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny.
The records released to RTE's 'This Week' radio programme also show Mr Howlin's own department sanctioned an additional €12m Wexford upgrade, while the Kilkenny upgrades were funded from "efficiency savings" in other areas.
It also came at a time when other hospitals, such as Roscommon, were being downgraded.
Fianna Fail health spokes-man Billy Kelleher said Dr Reilly must urgently clarify what he called the "disturbing revelations".
Mr Kelleher said it "once again" raised the question of political interference in health decisions.
Sinn Fein's Caoimhghin O Caoloain said "this Fine Gael-Labour Government is copying Fianna Fail with cabinet cronyism ensuring the fast-tracking of favoured projects in the constituencies of ministers".
The upgrades meant changing the HSE's capital plan, and Mr Howlin and Mr Hogan announced them in early June 2011, days before a HSE board meeting on June 9.
The ministerial announcements were queried by the HSE board, and the minutes of the June 9 meeting say: "In view of the announcements by the Minister for Public Expenditure and the Minister for the Environment in relation to capital projects in St Luke's Hospital Kilkenny and Wexford General Hospital, revisions to the capital plan may be required."
Brian Gilroy, the HSE director of estates, then sought written confirmation of the changes, and said more money was needed.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform eventually sanctioned €12m for Wexford, while Kilkenny was funded through savings made elsewhere.
Michael Scanlan, the former secretary general of the Department of Health, wrote to then HSE CEO Cathal Magee a month later confirming Dr Reilly "requested that these two projects be accelerated in the HSE's capital programme".
Dr Reilly's spokesman has defended the decision, and said both upgrades were needed.
"The decision was made in July of 2011 and was made at the board meeting of the HSE," the spokesman said.
"The minutes of the board meeting showed this decision clearly at the time."
Mr Howlin's department said work on the Wexford upgrade had started "as far back as 2009".
Mr Howlin personally sanctioned the €12m for the Wexford hospital, his spokeswoman said.
Mr Hogan's spokeswoman did not return calls, but a local HSE official wrote to Mr Hogan telling him they had been able to further the St Luke's project "with your own support and that of the Minister for Health".