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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Department's petulance just proves cluelessness

THEY won't pull that one with the IMF next week. The disrespect shown by the heads of the Department of Health and HSE to the elected representatives on the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was yet another example of the political cluelessness at the heart of the health service.

The attitude of Dr Ambrose McLoughlin of the Department of Health and Tony O'Brien of the HSE to scrutiny by the taxpayers' watchdog won't do anything to enhance their public perception.

Lecturing the Dail's most respected and powerful committee about what it can and cannot ask them about was petulance beyond belief.

Keep in mind that the standing of those in charge of the health service is hardly stellar.

After all, these are the officials who drew up cutback plans which brought disabled people in wheelchairs to the gates of Government Buildings last month.

Although his storming-out-the-door hissy fit was over the top, Fianna Fail's Sean Fleming had a point to his protest on the stonewalling of the committee.

Often in the course of Oireachtas committee meetings, civil servants will diplomatically say a question is beyond their remit.

Never before have officials sought to issue a dictat on the questions being asked in advance. It is the equivalent of the players in a match telling the referee the rules before he's blown the whistle.

The Dail PAC didn't get the answers it wanted on the management of finances in the health services, which is heading for a €350m overrun this year.

But this isn't the first time in its history that the HSE has shown itself to be detached from political reality.

The same problem was identified in the early stages of its existence when cuts to hospital services were announced without being cleared through government channels.

Different management now but the same problems emerge.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly said he is "quietly confident" health spending can be brought under control.

Who does he think he's kidding? The normally rigid Department of Finance practically admitted last week that health spending is not going to be on track at the end of the year.

Next week, the bailout team from the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission will be conducting their latest review.

The out-of-control health spending is going to be right at the top of the agenda.

Dr McLoughlin and Mr O'Brien would be advised to change their tune when dealing with those watchdogs because the troika don't bark -- they just bite.

Irish Independent

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