Reilly defies Howlin over promised HSE payroll savings plan
HEALTH Minister James Reilly has publicly defied Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin over promised payroll savings in the health services, which will now be almost €200m below target this year.
The new stand-off between the ministers compounds ongoing difficulties about control of spending, which are also affecting Dr Reilly's efforts to steer through a major overhaul of the health system in phased changes up to 2019.
Mr Howlin's officials repeatedly point to runaway spending as an example of upcoming problems with the plan for 'free care' at point of delivery funded by mandatory health insurance. Dr Reilly's officials and the HSE managers argue that the planned pay savings were never realistic.
The Health Service Executive has confirmed that an expert consultant's report found that there will be a major shortfall in the payroll savings set out for 2014.
And their only options now, if forced to find the savings, are further pay cuts or more health service cuts.
On RTE television last night, the minister overseeing the public sector pay savings, Brendan Howlin, said he expected the health services to deliver as agreed last autumn under the Haddington Road Agreement. He said he had confidence in the HSE managers who knew what they were getting into when they signed up to the deal last May.
"They knew exactly, sector by sector, where the savings were to be made.
"In fact, the savings were not particularly onerous," Mr Howlin told 'The Week in Politics' programme.
But both HSE bosses and the Health Minister said while they could meet up to 73pc of the cuts set out, there would also be a shortfall. They said that along with the Haddington Road cuts, the HSE was lumbered with extra cuts of €108m in detailed spending plans for 2014.
The cuts had been assessed by the health consultants, PA, which estimated the overall shortfall at about €186m.
A spokesman for Dr Reilly pointed out that projected savings on medical cards, published after the Budget last October, had not stood up to scrutiny from the Public Expenditure and Taoiseach's Departments.
"Now this highly detailed report from consultants, PA, makes clear that the targets for pay-related savings for the health sector are too high," the minister's spokesman told the Irish Independent.
A HSE spokesman said there was "an unrealisable gap" between the savings targets and what was achievable.