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Sunday 17 November 2019

Martin accuses Fine Gael of HSE budget 'cover up'

FF leader demands documents be released in the public interest


FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin has accused the Government of a "cover-up" following a refusal by the Department of Health to release detailed records related to the budget of the HSE.

Yesterday, Mr Martin said: "The Government should stop hiding behind technicalities in the Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation and publish all the relevant documents in the public interest."

This latest accusation follows a claim last week that the Department of Health failed to act as the financial position of the health service deteriorated over recent months.

In letters to the department, former HSE chief executive Cathal Magee repeatedly pressed for decisions to be made and policy directions to be given to deal with the financial position. The Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin, has also written to Health Minister James Reilly warning that the HSE deficit could reach €500m by the end of the year and asking him to personally deal with the issue.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has given strong backing to the performance of Dr Reilly and has placed blame for health budget overruns at the door of the HSE.

Mr Martin has now stepped up pressure on the Health Minister by claiming the department had engaged in a "cover-up" by refusing to release information requested by Fianna Fail.

On January 9 2012, Fianna Fail submitted three comprehensive FoI requests to the department, which have been refused.

Fianna Fail sought "all electronic and written correspondence including memos, background papers, preparatory advice, minutes of meetings, dates and times of unminuted meetings, submissions, documents, publications, advice from experts if asked for and received, letters received from outside bodies and any correspondence and minutes from the troika provided to the Minister for Health".

The records were sought with respect to the 2012 Budget Estimate for savings estimated to be generated in demand-led schemes; increas-ed generation and collection of private income to be achieved, and savings estimated to be generated in mental health and disability services.

The due date for a decision on the request was February 7, but this deadline was missed.

On March 27, the Department of Health refused the Freedom of Information request regarding two documents in favour of partially granting the FoI request for one.

Within the released information, three records were partially released and four records not released at all.

The 2012 Budget Estimate for demand-led schemes pointed to savings of €219m to be achieved in the full year. The only released information pointed to savings measures identified as follows: reduced price of generic drugs (€10m); reference pricing (€10m); probity measures (€5m); Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest measures (€20m).

These measures yield a total saving of €45m in 2012. The department released no record of where the balance of €174m in savings was to be achieved.

Legislation on generic drugs and reference pricing was not published until July of this year, and cannot be enacted until Autumn at the very earliest.

Fianna Fail must now appeal to the Information Commissioner to release the balance of records.

No information has been released in relation to advice provided to the minister or in respect of minutes of meetings held and dates and times of meetings. The department also says no such material exists in relation to any correspondence from the troika.

Regarding, memos, background papers, submissions, documents, and publications provided to the minister, no such information has been released.

Mr Martin told the Sunday Independent: "Given the level of cutbacks which patients and their families face over the coming months, with secret plans being made to close beds and wards, to extend waiting lists, and to delay life-saving procedures, the people have a right to know how the budget estimate was arrived at, and why targets were not achieved.

"The Information Commissioner may take up to four months before making a decision on such an appeal. The government should stop hiding behind technicalities in the FoI legislation, and publish all relevant documents in the public interest."

Sunday Independent

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