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Sunday 8 December 2019

HSE's new taxi rules slashed its €26m bill

National cab firms now allowed to compete for local business

MaEve Sheehan

Last year's €26m taxi bill for the Health Service Executive (HSE) has been cut by almost a fifth in some areas by allowing national taxi companies to compete for local business and new rules for patients who can use them.

The measures follow criticism of the €121m spent in four years on taxis to ferry patients and staff to and from hospitals, while €26m was spent last year alone.

The HSE is trying to slash the numbers of taxis it uses in expectation of cuts of up to €1bn in its budget, announced by Health Minister Mary Harney last week.

Brian Gilroy, the HSE's national director of estates, said allowing national taxi firms to bid against local operators for new contracts has shaved up to 18 per cent off the bill in some areas.

But he said the decision had led to "political interference" with public representatives lobbying the HSE to hold on to local contracts.

"You will find in some cases political interference. There is resistance locally to contracts going for a national tender," he said.

"This is a legacy the HSE has inherited. Some health board areas provided much more patient transport than others. And there was no definition of 'entitlement' to a taxi," said Mr Gilroy.

"The HSE is establishing a national set of rules, which all hospitals will have to follow, so that a 40-year-old man leaving hospital with a sore toe doesn't warrant a taxi."

While Mr Gilroy declined to elaborate, it emerged last month that Dick Roche, the Wicklow junior minister, had lobbied the HSE after a taxi firm in his constituency failed to win a lucrative contract.

The efficiency drive is among a series of drastic cost savings that will have to be implemented by the HSE in anticipation of a €1bn funding cut next year, at a time of intense scrutiny of waste in the system.

Ms Harney said last week that finding the cuts would be challenging as 70 per cent of the budget is spent on pay, which has been guaranteed by the Croke Park Agreement with unions.

Other savings include €7m on the health service's €100m energy budget.

The HSE hopes to raise €10m this year in property sales -- with more sales coming on stream next year -- with funds going towards the mental health budget.

Savings are also being made in procurement.

He said it took three years to reach agreement with the trade unions on introducing a new reporting structure for procurement staff around the country. Since a deal was struck in July, a more efficient procurement system has been introduced.

"Historically you would have had multiple suppliers across multiple different health boards. It was only recently, in July this year, that we got agreement with the unions, to change that," he said. "We are now category buying."

Mr Gilroy, who was interviewed before Ms Harney's budget announcement last week, said that waste in the health service had its roots in the old health board system and claimed none of the recent controversies "originated" on the HSE's watch.

Mr Gilroy said the HSE was committed to maintaining the same levels of frontline services next year.

Sunday Independent

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