Tuesday 21 November 2017

James Reilly to review HSE plan for €666m in cutbacks

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

A MENU of cuts to be enforced in 2014, including the axing of medical cards and jobs, is contained in the Health Service Executive (HSE) spending plan before Health Minister James Reilly.

The HSE service plan has to slash at least €666m in spending next year.

It is understood the plan questions some of the financial targets, including the €113m it is expected to save through cutting medical cards.

The plan also contains a target to shed 2,600 jobs from the HSE's workforce of 100,600 by the end of the next year through natural wastage and targeted voluntary redundancy.

However, if the targeted savings figures fail to measure up, the cuts will have to be found elsewhere next year -- which means the real extent of the pain will not be clear until 2014.

Other areas targeted for savings include the drugs budget -- which will be mainly met through more use of generics -- as well as reductions in fees to doctors and pharmacists, along with the slashing of several allowances under the Haddington Road agreement.

Changes

The service plan, based on the €13bn HSE budget, is to be scrutinised further by officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Dr Reilly, who has nearly a month before signing off on it with the freedom to demand changes in the meantime. A major spotlight will be on the financial allocations to struggling hospitals which will not be decided until the end of the year -- but several are already tens of millions of euros in the red.

The squeeze on hospital funding in 2013 has already led to a rise in waiting lists and delays in some areas for cancer treatment.

Hospitals which are paying top-ups to senior managers, including Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, will be under pressure to end the practice before the final allocations are decided.

The Department of Public Expenditure is expected to crack down on the HSE's alarming absenteeism rate, which results in nearly 5,000 being off sick every day, with one in 10 on uncertified leave.

The problem of delays in the collection of income from private insurance companies for the treatment of private patients is also to be a source of contention with Department of Public Expenditure officials.

Fianna Fail spokesman on health, Deputy Billy Kelleher, called on the minister to make an early statement on the plan and give assurances on basic levels of safety and patient care.

FEARS

"There is widespread apprehension around the country about the service cuts that are coming and the effect this will have on basic patient safety and care," Mr Kelleher said. "These fears were well expressed in correspondence from the chief executives of some of the country's largest hospitals.

"To date, all we have seen from the Government has been bare-faced denial of the reality on the ground for thousands of families who are already seeing the damage of a change in policy towards discretionary medical cards and a disingenuous attempt to distract attention from the cuts with a debate about top-ups for senior executives."

Irish Independent

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