HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly is to cut 1,000 staff from the health service next year in the biggest single jobs reduction in the public service.
And he warned that due to the €666m required in overall health cuts, he may have to choose between spending on hearing implants for profoundly deaf children and a scheme to prevent people going blind.
Dr Reilly said the 2014 health budget would be the greatest challenge the sector had ever faced.
He cited this as the reason he was unable to give any assurances that €12.8m in funding would be provided to allow an estimated 200 deaf children to get two hearing implants instead of one.
He said that providing the cochlear implants was a priority for him – but difficult decisions would have to be made.
"I must make choices about this very sensitive issue, and other matters such as screening for diabetic retinopathy, where if people are not screened and treated they will go irreversibly blind," he said.
It is standard policy in Europe and the USA to fit two cochlear implants – one for each ear – but in Ireland, the policy has been to fit one.
But this means children find it hard to locate where sounds are coming from.
The Dail heard that deaf children who need cochlear implants are in a race against time. If they are not fitted by the time a child is aged seven or eight, the implants will not work because the auditory nerves in the ear will have died.
HSE chief Tony O' Brien yesterday told an Oireachtas Health Committee that the HSE may also have to find €1bn in savings because of inherited deficits in areas like hospitals and pressures such as the ageing population, putting even further pressure on the system.
The 1,000 HSE job cuts are expected to be accounted for by retirements and the non-replacement of staff. It means the HSE's workforce will drop from 98,955 to 97,955.
In contrast, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn got the go-ahead to recruit 1,255 new teachers, while the number of staff cuts in the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton's Department is just 159.