SOME of the busiest hospitals in the country will see their budgets plundered by up to €9m this year as part of a radical shake-up in health funding.
Patients are at risk of ending up the biggest losers if the funding experiment leads to a reduction in services and longer waiting lists.
However, the new system, imposed by the Health Service Executive (HSE), will see other hospitals – several of which are in the constituencies of ministers – get a big financial boost.
Among those to suffer funding cuts are St James's Hospital, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, the Rotunda and Temple Street Hospital.
HSE head Tony O'Brien rejected accusations of political interference last night and said hospitals overall are better off in 2013 compared with last year when cuts ranged from 7-11pc.
"Nobody has lobbied me," he insisted when asked if any representations were made to him by a politician. "They went in the other direction," he said. "I made representations to Minister Reilly on the necessity to rebalance funding for hospitals and take money from elsewhere in the system."
Defending the new system of sharing the funding cake for hospitals, he said it was distributed to allow those with large deficits a "fighting chance" of breaking even this year.
At the end of 2012, hospitals were €271m in the red and some which had run up huge deficits would never be able to balance their books if they were not given a substantial injection of funding this year, he explained.
If this was not done, the HSE, which has a budget of €13.5bn, would be facing into another year of financial crisis, he added.
Asked why hospitals which had the biggest deficits appeared to be financially rewarded, he said "no hospital was any worse off than it would have been" had the across-the-board reductions of previous years been repeated.
St James's Hospital would not comment yesterday, while the Rotunda, which is struggling to cope with increasing births, said it was concerned at the figure.
The hospitals that face into a year of cuts will have to cope with an increasing number of patients – many of them elderly – and a fall in full-time staff, putting them under more pressure to deliver services via the use of expensive agency staff and working more overtime.
The failure to recruit graduate nurses on low salaries – supposed to save hospitals about €10m – will also leave them with a financial shortfall.
Dr Reilly defended the new system of funding, saying the old way of cutting budgets for hospitals already in the red was a way of "confining them to failure before you start".
This is about giving them "realistic budgets" that they can meet, he said. If they don't meet them, there will be "serious consequences" for hospital management. "In the past, it has bothered me hugely that when budgets weren't met, it was patients who suffered. On this occasion, it won't be that way."