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Thursday 28 August 2014

Now Reilly wants €300m bailout from the taxpayer

Eilish O'Regan, Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 22/11/2012 | 05:00

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CRISIS-RIDDEN Health Minister James Reilly now needs a €300m bailout from the taxpayer to plug the black hole in the health budget.

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Dr Reilly's competence is now under scrutiny on several fronts in the wake of the botched handling of his inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar – with President Michael D Higgins entering the fray on the issue last night.

Mr Higgins (pictured above) called for "some form of investigation" which meets the needs of the public concern, the family and the State.

Despite the refusal of Praveen Halappanavar to cooperate with the inquiry into his wife's death, the Government is insisting it will press ahead with its investigation and will not be setting up a public tribunal.

The inquiry will have to produce an interim report before Christmas.

And the three new members of the inquiry team, to replace three consultants from Galway University Hospital, are to be announced.

Separately, Dr Reilly's failure to keep control of spending has resulted in the Department of Health needing an embarrassing emergency budget.

The failure to manage the budget means savings will have to be made in other departments to cover the shortfall.

Ministers are warning that the Government wants to budget more accurately in the health sector.

The need for an extra budget is acutely embarrassing for the Government in its dealings with the IMF- EU bailout team.

Health spending is currently running at €336m over budget. Although the Government won't say how much extra funds are required, the Irish Independent understands a figure of €250-€300m is projected.

After months of government denials the health budget won't come in on target, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has confirmed that a Supplementary Estimate will have to be passed through the Dail.

Mr Howlin met with Dr Reilly again yesterday evening to discuss the health budget – the second such meeting in a week.

The supplementary budget will be separate to any new measures announced in December in Budget 2013.

The HSE is heading towards a deficit of €400m by the end of the year, but there are no details yet as to how big the bailout will be. But Mr Howlin said it will be "a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction" of the annual €13.5bn budget for health.

"I can confirm it is likely there will be a supplementary budget for health," he said.

In an ominous warning to Dr Reilly, the minister also said the Government wanted to budget more accurately for health.

Fianna Fail's Sean Fleming said there wasn't overspending, but "under-budgeting" and said Dr Reilly's annual estimates were flawed.

'Bizarre'

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said it was "bizarre" an emergency budget would be brought in just days before the full Budget for 2013.

The estimate compares with the €148m bailout in 2011 when he was able to blame the way the health budget was framed by the last government before he took over as minister in March.

Despite imposing cutbacks in home help and other services, the Health Service Executive (HSE) is on course for a deficit of €400m this year, driven by a rise in hospital patients, a surge in medical cards and the cost of drugs.

HSE chief executive Tony O'Brien said the number of patients admitted through hospital emergency departments went up by an additional 7,091 in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2011.

An additional 10,260 patients had inpatient treatments and there has been a rise in the numbers of patients calling their GPs in the evenings and weekends.

Among the biggest pressures is the inflation in the number of people covered by medical cards – rising to 1.8 million by September after an increase of 144,540 since the end of last year.

"The HSE continues to face significant financial challenges to year end in areas such as childcare, acute hospitals and community drug schemes based upon the demand for services," Mr O'Brien said this week.

It now looks like the HSE will end up over €250m in the red despite the cuts and upfront payments of €125m from private health insurance companies for treatments in public hospitals.

Meanwhile, President Higgins said any inquiry into the death of Ms Halappanavar should result in women in Ireland getting the medical services they need.

Speaking in Liverpool yesterday, the President extended his sympathies to the husband and family of the Indian woman. He said there should be "some form of investigation which meets the needs of the public concern, the need of the family and of the State".

Irish Independent

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