Friday 20 September 2019

Hospitals face wave of cuts as budget crisis in health deepens

The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly
The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly

Eilish O'Regan and Fionnan Sheahan

HOSPITALS are expected to bear the brunt of the worsening financial crisis in the health service, which is heading for another massive taxpayer bailout at the end of the year.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has admitted a supplementary budget for health will be needed this year. However, Mr Kenny also expressed confidence in Health Minister James Reilly, who is expected to be moved from his position next month.

Spending in the health sector is expected to overrun by €500m in 2014.

The HSE is now three times more in the red than the same time last year, sparking a new wave of cuts.

The agency had a deficit of €158m at the end of May – compared to €49.3m for the same five months in 2013.

The overrun this year is estimated at €500m by Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin.

The overrun in spending means services across hospitals and community services are facing major cuts for the rest of year, hitting waiting lists and the recruitment of much needed staff.

The supplementary estimate will be calculated later in the year, when the extent of the overrun is fully known.

Health spending has continually been a problem area for the Coalition, with ongoing tensions during Dr Reilly's period in charge over the last three years.

Commenting on his description of the HSE as a devalued brand, Dr Reilly said it has never functioned well and was set up in a very poor fashion.

"We saw no efficiencies in terms of personnel and everyone knows it has a very bad reputation.

"It is not a reflection of the great people who work in the place but the structure that was put in place that has frustrated them from delivering the service they want to deliver," he said.


Mr Kenny confirmed his continued support for Reilly in the Dail following questions from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher questioned the Taoiseach's judgement following his expression of confidence in Dr Reilly.

"The Taoiseach's expression of confidence in Minister Reilly demonstrates the Taoiseach's disconnect from the reality of our health services in 2014.

"Since taking over the post, Minister Reilly has presided over a shambolic budget process, submitting inadequate estimates in the first place and pushing ahead with a budget that simply was never fit for purpose," he said.

Mr Kelleher said the minister himself was admitting a net deficit of €158m at the end of May, with the Department of Health predicting it could hit €500m by the end of 2014.

Mr Kelleher said the mismanagement of the health budget was putting patient safety at risk.

The management of the health sector has come under greater scrutiny in the wake of a call by Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness for Mr McLoughlin and HSE director general Tony O'Brien to resign.

A war of words has erupted between Mr Kenny and the Fianna Fail TD.

Mr Kenny said Mr McGuinness had "over-politicised" his position as head of the spending watchdog by calling for the resignations.

Irish Independent

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