Health services must be delivered within budget
A LACK of efficiency, poor spending controls, poor value for money and a failure to achieve stated goals. With those harsh words, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness yesterday castigated the performance of the health services. As yet another hefty over-spend was signalled, Deputy McGuinness capped his criticisms by calling on the secretary general of the Health Department and the chief executive of the Health Service Executive to resign. We appreciate the PAC chairman's justified indignation.
We know that public anger over the handling of the recent medical card review will compound public dismay about many aspects of our health services. But we must also beware of facile remedies – especially those being mooted in the heat of the moment. The problems in our health services – especially suspicions that taxpayers are not getting value for money – have been with us for decades. Yet, if you go back over the last 20 years, you will find that five talented politicians who were household names and from a variety of parties have tried to put some order in the health services. In 1992 Labour's Brendan Howlin became Health Minister and was succeeded two years later by Fine Gael's Michael Noonan. In 1997 Fianna Fail's Brian Cowen took over and was succeeded by Micheal Martin also of that party in 2000. In 2004 Mary Harney of the Progressive Democrats took over and held the post until January 2011.
Some of these people made progress in some specific sectors. But all of them juggled with budgetary problems which have never been really tackled.
We must also acknowledge that the Health Department has lost €3bn in funding since 2008 and thousands of staff posts have been taken out of the system. It is also one of the last truly people-centred work sectors with a huge wage bill.
But even after making all of these concessions, it is hard to see why our health services cannot achieve something approaching the budgetary targets set out for them. Again and again, one of the most dispiriting things about the Irish health services is the sense of defeat which accompanies the perennial over-spending.
It is simply not good enough and we need leadership in the health services that will live within the budgets.
Let's cheer on amazing Special Olympics athletes
While the opening of the World Cup in Brazil is the centre of attention, great events were occupying more than 1,500 athletes, their families, friends and spectators closer to home at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics Ireland Games 2014 in the People's Park Limerick last night. Every county in Ireland was represented in the parade through the city, led by the 30-strong Torch Run Team made up of members of the Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The Special Olympics and its participants will take place over the next three days at 14 venues in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary. The athletes not only show great athletic prowess, but also represent courage, tenacity and the will to win – all that is best in sporting endeavour.
The Special Olympics involves the athletes, coaches and their families, as well as hundreds of volunteers and an estimated 10,000 supporters, all a vital component of the success of this event. "Special Olympics changes lives in so many different ways, enabling people with intellectual disability to achieve and win not only in spirit but in life too," said Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin at the opening ceremony.
He praised the hours that volunteers give to the athletes and the satisfaction they get from seeing them participate.
It is fitting that Limerick, a city that took these amazing and inspiring athletes to its heart four years ago, should once again host this event. Let the games begin and let us all rejoice in another successful Special Olympics.