Sunday 17 February 2019

Taoiseach insists 'enormous progress' made in health system following criticism from former HSE boss

Health Minister Simon Harris and former HSE boss Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Health Minister Simon Harris and former HSE boss Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted that “enormous progress” has been made in the health system despite a devastating critique of the system and Minister Simon Harris by the former head of the HSE.

Tony O’Brien has accused Mr Harris of acting like a “frightened little boy” and claimed the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee acted like a “kangaroo court” when dealing with the fallout from the CervicalCheck controversy.

However, Mr Varadkar came to his minister’s defence today, saying “look at that guy's record”.

“In the past six months alone he brought through the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and at long last has enacted the Public Health Alcohol legislation that’s going to save a lot of lives. That’s two pretty big achievements by a health minister in six months.

“I believe anything he may lack in terms of experience or age he makes up in his commitment and compassion,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach, who served as health minister from 2014 to 2016, said trust has always been a “difficulty” between the officials in the HSE and politicians.

“I think most agencies accept it is their responsibility to come in on budget, for example. The HSE’s practice for many years has been to pass the problem on to the Department.

“I think that’s something that has to change. It certainly has to change now that we have a record budget for health and an extra €1bn next year.

“If the Department of Education, if CIE, if pretty much every agency and government body can come in on budget it isn’t too much to ask the HSE to do so. It’s not good enough that they just write letters passing the problem on to the department. That’s not what people are paid a lot of money to do.”

Put to him that no minister has gotten on top of the trolley crisis in the country’s A&Es, Mr Varadkar noted that Tony O’Brien had a record level of funding while charged with overseeing the HSE’s management of that situation.

“As I always say we have a lot of problems in health, nobody denies that. There’s a problem with overcrowding in our emergency departments and we’ve a lot of people who are waiting far too long for the appointment they need or the treatment they need,” he said.

“But we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture which is that we have made enormous progress in health in the last few years in Ireland. The average Irish person now lives to 81. That didn’t happen by accident.”

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