PLANS to chase down thousands of medical card holders next year to save a potential €113m have been shelved -- but a scythe hangs over other key health services instead.
The Health Service Executive's (HSE) original target of €113m in savings through probity -- by finding enough medical card holders who are no longer eligible to hold the cards -- has been reduced to €23m.
The new medical card savings figure will be unveiled in the revised national service plan to be published today by the HSE, which will set out how it will spend its €13bn budget for 2014.
The reduction in savings needed has been made possible due to a €47m transfer of funds to the HSE from the Department of Social Protection, which is benefiting from a fall in unemployment.
But it still leaves €43m to be found from cuts to other areas with the vague hope that some will come from the unreliable source of pay, pensions and the Department of Health.
Although the HSE has been given a minor reprieve -- with overall planned cuts down from €666m to €619m -- patients and the wider public who depend on its delivery can expect a punishing year of delays and reductions in a range of services.
The plan will confirm the Budget promise to introduce free GP care for children aged five and under "by June 1 next year at the latest". The Cabinet has agreed the general scheme of legislation needed to implement the Budget measure.
The service plan -- signed off on the by Cabinet yesterday -- will also signal the much-vaunted HSE wind-down, which aimed to see it gradually dismantled, being delayed until January 2015 due to "unanticipated difficulties".
It also means the pre-election promise of universal healthcare, where every citizen is insured, is pushed even further into the horizon.
The climbdown from the original €113m budget figure follows opposition from Health Minister James Reilly and HSE chief Tony O'Brien.
Dr Reilly's supporters in Government claim the controversial €113m was imposed upon him in Budget 2014 by the Department of Public Expenditure and was never going to be achieved.
"The minister sought validation for good reason and it turned out to be correct. The savings of €113m were unattainable," a source said.
The abandonment of the original €113m target for the controversial medical card probity was first revealed in the Sunday Independent a fortnight ago.