Sunday 22 October 2017

Troika issues critical report over lack of health reform

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE troika has criticised the delays in reforming the social welfare system and the health service in its second-last inspection report.

The draft report, which was based on the troika's visit here from July 9-18, was discussed by the Cabinet last week.

It is understood that the representatives of the IMF, EU and European Central Bank are still concerned that not enough is being done to prepare the 400,000 on the dole for work.

And they are still criticising the specific lack of progress on helping the 180,000 people who are long-term unemployed.

The troika believes that huge savings in the €20bn social welfare budget could be achieved by providing proper training and job opportunities – and would reduce the need to direct social welfare cuts at more vulnerable people.

The troika is also worried about the health service going over-budget yet again – with the most recent projections from the HSE putting the potential deficit at €100m by the end of the year unless action is taken.

Health Minister James Reilly has declined to say what action he has promised to take to deal with this deficit, saying his discussions with the troika were "confidential".

The troika report's overall conclusion is that the country's finances are still on track overall – and that it is on course to exit the bailout by the end of this year.

It is due to be signed off by the IMF in Washington later this month and by the EU next month. This will allow for a further €3.4bn in bailout funds to be supplied to the Government.

Since last April, the troika has been seeking monthly reports from the Government on efforts to help the unemployed and on health service reforms.

FOCUS

But the troika's continued focus on the Departments of Health and Social Protection is a sign that its long-standing concerns have not been fully dealt with even as the bailout programme comes to an end.

Officials are due to make their final inspection visit next month.

Within the Government, some credit is being given to Dr Reilly for trying to tackle the problems in the health service. He recently introduced legislation to finally cut the cost of the State's €2bn drugs bill by requiring pharmacists to dispense certain generic drugs if they are cheaper than branded equivalents.

But it is understood there is still concern in government about the state of the social welfare system. The troika report is set to welcome the Government's recent high-profile launch of its latest social welfare reform plan, known as Pathways to Work. As a sign of the Government's commitment, it was attended by not just Social Protection Minister Joan Burton but also Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. However, the troika wants more "meaningful engagement" with people who are on the dole.

Ms Burton is expected to vigorously defend the record of her department. She is committed to increasing the number of 'case officers' who offer advice to the unemployed and also to completing the educational and job history profiles of all 400,000-plus people on the dole by the end of this year.

One of the key demands of the troika has been to hire private-sector companies to retrain unemployed people on a large scale. The Irish Independent understands Ms Burton sought cabinet approval for this at last week's meeting – with tendering due to begin in November.

Irish Independent

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