Thursday 22 March 2018

Now Reilly must find €1.2bn in health cuts

Cuts target is almost double the figure announced by minister on Budget day

Dr James Reilly
Dr James Reilly

DANIEL McCONNELL Political Correspondent

CUTS required in the Department of Health for next year now look set to be almost double the €666m figure announced on Budget day, senior Government sources have revealed.

The escalating crisis in health now means the cuts needed for next year will be up to €1.2bn, given "significant added pressures" facing Dr James Reilly and his officials.

There is also fresh doubt over the viability of the €113m medical card "probity savings" figure outlined on Budget day by Dr Reilly, handed down to him by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

This is because, of the 1.8 million medical card holders in Ireland at present, the 600,000 social welfare recipients who have medical cards can't be touched and nor can children under six, sources have stressed.

A major stand-off has emerged between Department of Health and Health Service Executive (HSE) officials on one side and officials from Mr Howlin's department over how to achieve the savings.

It has emerged that proposed savings under the Haddington Road Agreement look set to "be pushed" until 2015 in order to bridge the gap. Yet this will only delay the bad news for another day, and Mr Howlin's department is adamant that no leeway would be given.

"Getting to €666m was a tall order, but with all these additional factors, the figure is now closer to €1.2bn. But some of the figures put forward by PER (Public Expenditure and Reform) would have the impact of jeopardising patient safety, and that is not acceptable," one senior Government source told the Sunday Independent.

Meetings between the HSE and the Department of Health as well as officials from the Department of An Taoiseach and Mr Howlin's department are continuing, but there is no end in sight.

Several Government sources this weekend said the spike in the cuts estimate for 2014 has been caused by: the need to implement the European working directive, which will require the hiring of new doctors; a need to implement a whole raft of maternity care reforms in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar; the provision needed to provide cochlear implants to children; and demographic pressures caused by our ageing population.

Sunday Independent

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