Under-fire James Reilly pleads to stay in his job as Health Minister
HEALTH Minister James Reilly is appealing to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to leave him in his job in next year's Cabinet reshuffle.
Dr Reilly says he wants to complete the full five years in the post to continue the reform of the health service.
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, the embattled minister claims he is making progress on the transformation of the health system.
He robustly defends his record of managing his department's budget, saying he was "vindicated" in demanding a recheck of the figures in the wake of Budget 2014 in October.
"The reform of the health service is progressing. We are more than halfway through.
"All of it is to improve outcomes for patients and everybody is becoming acutely aware of that," he said.
The health budget was adjusted last week with the target for savings from medical cards dramatically cut from €113m to just €23m.
The minister said "it's very clear" the Department of Health and the HSE did not come up with the original figure.
The under-fire minister is frequently at the centre of controversy over his management of spending in his department.
The budget overspend was one of the most contentious issues during the bailout and was constantly singled out by the troika as a weakness.
Dr Reilly is a continual source of tensions in the Cabinet and his relationship with the Labour Party has been fraught.
During the recent Budget negotiations, he was also reported to have had strained relations with the Taoiseach.
The minister's record has resulted in speculation he will be moved in next summer's reshuffle.
However, Dr Reilly says Mr Kenny is backing his reform plans. "I know I have absolutely got the Taoiseach's support and I think everybody understands that health is hugely important as a political issue.
"I think nobody doubts that whilst health might not necessarily win you an election, it can certainly cost you an election," he said.
Dr Reilly says his role as health minister is "what I got into politics to do" and he wants to stay put.
"The Taoiseach knows that anyway," he added.
The minister said he understood Mr Kenny had to review the Cabinet situation and put the right individuals in the departments in which "they are best able to serve the people".
"I believe this is the area for me to do what I can to transform the health service because I think it's critically important," he added.
The minister said he was making progress in a range of areas, forming the overall reform of the health service:
* The abolition of the HSE
* The biggest shake-up of hospitals in the history of the State
* The creation of seven distinct hospital groups, rather than 49 hospitals operating independently
* The Special Delivery Unit cutting waiting times for treatment
* The introduction of the new 'Money Follows The Patient' funding system
* Bringing in a National Pricing Office to set the cost of treatments
* Advances in clinical programmes
* The lowest numbers on trolleys in A&E in six years
* Tackling the cost of drugs
The minister said he had always made it clear the introduction of Universal Health Insurance will take two terms in government.
"What we can do in this term is put in place all the building blocks that make it nigh impossible to turn back.
"And I believe we are more than halfway through on that job now," he said.
Dr Reilly claimed the new structures in the HSE meant he now had the "greatest handle" on the finances ever in the health sector.
"The big thing that's come out of it (the budgetary process) is the Department of Health and the HSE's figures were accurate. Nobody has been able to question them.
"I think there was a lot of reports about the HSE not knowing what its figures were and the Department of Health not knowing what their figures were.
"The uncomfortable truth is that they were right, they are right and they remain right.
"And we do have a very serious challenge to meet, but we have faced serious challenges in the past and we will overcome these challenges."
Dr Reilly said he was best placed to follow through on the reforms to date.
"This is what I got into politics to do and I know that health has often been described as a large tanker at sea.
"You can't turn it overnight and there are so many parts to it.
"You have to go after each part and yet it has to be done in a coherent fashion because I am very fond of quoting John Donne: 'No man is an island entire of itself'.
"And no part of the health service works entirely on its own. Unless you reform the entire, you will reform none of it," he said. "And that's been my great criticism in the past of the HSE, the lack of uniformity across the system.
"You have excellence in different areas and yet why isn't that transposed across?" he asked.
The minister said he was trying to reform the health service to get away from a "chaotic system which evolved in an ad hoc way over decades" to one that served the patient.
Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor