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Thursday 21 February 2019

Missing Minister: €130m cuts but no answers from Reilly

HSE officials (from left) Paddy Burke, Head of Primary Care Reimbursement; Laverne McGuinness, National Director, Integrated Services Directorate; and Paul Connors, National Director of Communications, at yesterday's press conference at the HSE’s offices in Dublin

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

HEALTH Minister James Reilly was not at his department desk -- nor at the HSE press conference -- as €130m of health cuts were announced.

He ignored the clamor for a response to the savage budget slashing that will particularly affect the elderly and disabled.

He did not appear on any radio or television programmes and was not available for interview – despite requests from every media organisation in the country.

Along with all the other refusals he declined to appear on RTE’s flagship Morning Ireland programme today, missing a prime opportunity to reassure worried and angry patients.

Dr Reilly's office said he was in constant contact with his officials throughout the day yesterday and said he had been working "almost full-time".

His spokesman said Dr Reilly had "hardly been off the phone", and when asked why the minister had not been at the announcement of the cuts, he added: "Because it's the HSE detailing the savings that they are making. The fact is the minister has been working almost full-time today, I would have thought."

But Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said Dr Reilly was "nowhere to be seen".

"People across the country are wondering, where is their Minister for Health and who is in charge?" Mr Kelleher said.

When asked if Dr Reilly was on holidays, the spokesman said: "No he's not, are you joking me? At the moment, he's in his car. He's north of Drogheda at the moment. He's here, he's working on this stuff."

When asked if Mr Reilly is working all this week, the minister's spokesman said: "It remains to be seen."

Dr Reilly spent a week in August on a state trip to China, when others were taking holidays.

A statement from Dr Reilly was released yesterday, saying he would be making a further statement next week on other savings that can be made to deal with the health overspend.

"My department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE have also been working together to identify other monies that can be made available this year to deal with the over-run and to make it easier for the HSE to achieve its targets and its service plan," the statement added.


"The work is continuing and we expect to make an announcement on this matter next week.

"I have directed that all areas of expenditure in the health system be closely examined to ensure that suspension of services for patients is a last resort.

"Some reductions in services are inevitable but the impact of these service reductions will be monitored constantly."

Yesterday's cuts come after Dr Reilly's failure to keep the HSE overspend under control was savaged in a report from the European Commission earlier this week.

Mr Kelleher last night said "nothing" had been heard from Mr Reilly all summer "despite a litany of controversies over his mishandling of the health budget".

"This is Mr Reilly's responsibility and he has a duty to explain what is going on so that people know what to expect," Mr Kelleher added.

"These extra cuts are being imposed because the minister made a complete mess of the health budget for this year, ignored the warnings about the financial crisis in the health service and misled the Dail and the public about what was going on.

"Mr Reilly made sweeping changes to the HSE so that he could take complete control. But unfortunately services have got worse," he said.

Irish Independent

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