Wednesday 22 November 2017

FG tightlipped on strategy to reverse €300m health cuts

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Fine Gael has failed to say where exactly it would get the €300m to reverse cutbacks in the health services, as the party was accused of engaging in "mythical mathematics".

But the main opposition party's plan to put pressure on Government backbenchers over health cuts may pay off as there were suggestions a former Fianna Fail TD would vote against the coalition.

Independent Fianna Fail TD Jimmy Devins, who resigned the party whip over the withdrawal of breast cancer services from Sligo, declined to comment on how he would vote on a motion on health service cuts tonight.

Despite agreeing four-years of cutbacks are required to get the public finances in order, Fine Gael is promising no cuts to frontline health services.

The party is also claiming it will identify €3bn in day-to-day spending cuts for December's Budget, without any tax hikes or reductions in capital projects.

Fine Gael deputy leader Dr James Reilly claimed reductions in the health budget could come from "efficiencies and savings" in the HSE back office functions -- without cutting frontline services.

Asked last night by the Irish Independent how much it would cost to suspend the cutbacks this year, Dr Reilly replied: "Clearly we have no overall figure."

He said there was no effort put into HSE reform or savings and promised that under Fine Gael in Government there would be "no further reductions to frontline services".

Pressure

"I believe within the envelope for health we can find efficiencies and savings," he said.

"To get the best savings will take a bit more time."

Tonight, Fine Gael will attempt to put pressure on a range of coalition TDs by calling on the Government to suspend the reduction in frontline health services across the country.

The party has focussed on hospitals in "Clonmel, Merlin Park, Nenagh, Roscommon, Navan, Sligo, Letterkenny and Portiuncula" and the opening of a community hospital in Dingle.

But Health Minister Mary Harney said reopening the 1,000 beds closed this year would cost €300m. She said the only reason those hospitals were picked out by Fine Gael was due to seats in those constituencies.

She accused it of engaging in "mythical mathematics" by promising to extend free GP care and free medical insurance to everybody while claiming it wouldn't cost taxpayers any more.

The minister queried Fine Gael's policy of switching to a "money follows the patient system".

"We are told money should follow the patients, but surely staff should follow the patients too," she said.

It was "not acceptable" for Dr Reilly to claim additional cash could be given to healthcare in the midst of cutbacks in public finances.

"I am very surprised you continue to pursue these policies," Ms Harney said.

If Mr Devins votes against the Government tonight, he will be the second coalition TD to stray within a week, after former PD Deputy Noel Grealish voted with the opposition last week.

Irish Independent

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