Tuesday 12 December 2017

Varadkar to warn Howlin over €500m threat to health

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin.
Leo Varadkar
John Drennan

John Drennan

Leo Varadkar will warn Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin that unless he secures €1.2bn in additional spending he will have to make up to €500m of health cuts in the run-up to election 2016.

Tense talks are scheduled to take place between Mr Varadkar and the Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin next week.

Mr Varadkar's request for €1.2bn has been greeted with short shrift by his cabinet colleagues, who are increasingly concerned about a "health budget that is still growing rather than falling".

One senior source close to the negotiations told the Sunday Independent: "Leo will get close to the five hundred million this year, but he is going to have to sort out next year's spend problems without any bailout."

However, Mr Varadkar will say that when it comes to the €1.2bn he is currently looking for, that only €200m will represent an actual spending increase.

The minister will claim of the other billion that half of this has already been earmarked to deal with the spending over-run from James Reilly's last budget and that the same amount will be needed next year if the HSE is to avoid making serious cuts in services.

One top government source told the Sunday Independent that as things stand: "Health is not actually looking for extra money next year. It just wants to avoid a €500m cut from what we will spend this year."

They said: "The health budget agreed by James Reilly was €500m short of what was required. It is simple logic therefore, that unless health gets that €500m next year, there will be €500m in cuts."

They also warned that: "The Department of Public Expenditure proposals are fantasy financing, we have to get away from phoney savings and phoney cuts and put health financing on a realistic footing."

The Sunday Independent has also learnt that on top of the billion needed to balance the books, Mr Varadkar will also be seeking "a small increase of two hundred million euro".

One source told the Sunday Independent: "This is the minimum needed to fulfil promises in the Programme for Government on mental health, breast check, GP cards for the under-sixes and over 70s, delayed discharges and new therapies."

They added: "We are three years into office and we still have not expanded breast check; people are running out of patience and belief."

Mr Varadkar will, however, also be proposing a series of budget cuts in areas such as the hiring of agency staff, which will increase by 50pc this year to half a billion euro.

In a major initiative, the Health Minister is expected to shortly announce that the HSE will take over the hiring of temporary staff which is currently conducted by private agencies.

In doing so, Mr Varadkar hopes to substantially cut costs in an area of expenditure which, up to July, has already cost €194.3m.

Sunday Independent

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