Thursday 22 February 2018

Reilly on his own as cruellest cuts are reversed

Health Minister's plea to keep job after medical cards fiasco

=Minister for Health Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins
=Minister for Health Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

DESPERATE Health Minister James Reilly made a last-ditch plea to be allowed to remain in his post as he announced a further U-turn on medical cards.

Dr Reilly was isolated as he apologised for the medical card fiasco, but said there was no plan to financially compensate those who had their cards removed.

The Government said around 15,300 people who were stripped of their cards will have their entitlements restored over the next four weeks.

Dr Reilly said the announcement represented a "good day for those who have lost their cards.

"I'm very sorry they had to suffer this. This was an unintended consequence," he said.

The fiasco has merely intensified the speculation around Dr Reilly's future with a growing expectation he will be dropped next month in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's reshuffle.

It was agreed by Cabinet that those who lost their cards since July 2011 will now have them restored.

The total is broken down into 12,000 medical card holders and 2,200 GP visit cards.

But Dr Reilly defended his record, insisting he has driven reform in the health service.

Dr Reilly claimed he has been effective in a number of key areas, such as patient safety, since he was appointed minister in 2011.

"The Taoiseach has expressed confidence in me on a number of occasions and he has never said anything to the contrary. If the tenor of the question is whether I'll be remaining in the Department of Health – nobody knows that except the Taoiseach, and he keeps his cards close to his chest," Dr Reilly told the Irish Independent.

"It's not for me to judge whether I've been good or not," he said.

"All I can say is I've been 100pc committed to reform, 100pc committed to change and 100pc committed to patient safety. I believe we have made some substantial progress in all those areas," he added.

Dr Reilly said Taoiseach Enda Kenny "has to do what he feels is the right thing" when he decides upon the make up of his new Cabinet.

Some Fine Gael and Labour TDs believe Dr Reilly is "first in line" to be axed when Mr Kenny (below) announces his reshuffle next month.

While the reshuffle had been expected to be revealed right after the local and European elections, the leadership contest in the Labour Party has delayed that process.

Labour sources believe the new leader, expected to be Joan Burton, will insist on a more radical Cabinet reshuffle than previously thought.

And there is also the view within the party that stalwarts Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte and outgoing leader Eamon Gilmore will be sacrificed for younger TDs.

There is the prospect the Coalition partners will swap full ministerial positions rather than just rotate ministers according to current party share.

Asked about his own political future amid speculation he will be moved out of the Department of Health in the upcoming reshuffle, Dr Reilly said: "My faith as a minister of health or any ministry is in the gift of the Taoiseach."

Announcing the medical cards move, the Department of Health said it will restore the medical cards or GP visits issued on a discretionary basis to a person with a serious medical condition, and who lost it after undergoing an eligibility review between July 1, 2011 and May 31, 2014.

* A person must have held a medical or GP visit card issued on a discretionary basis during that period, but had it withdrawn on foot of a completed eligibility review.

* They must have completed the review process during that period, ie provided the information and documentation required to assess their eligibility.

* They must have a serious medical condition which required that their case was referred to a Medical Officer as a part of the review process.

The move excludes anyone who applied for a card during that time and was turned down.

It also fails to make any provision for people who are currently applying for a discretionary card.


But Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the Government needed to clarify how many medical cards are being restored.

"The minister and the Taoiseach need to speak to each other and decide just how many discretionary medical cards are being restored. Earlier today, James Reilly announced that 15,300 cards would be returned to people, however, this afternoon the Taoiseach told the Dail that 13,000 cards will be restored.

"Both men were at the same Cabinet meeting this morning, how they have announced two completely different figures this afternoon is a complete mystery," he said.

Shane Coleman: P33

Irish Independent

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