Monday 18 December 2017

Varadkar will seek an extra €500m for Health budget

Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar will enter into Budget negotiations seeking an extra €500m on last year's allocation.

The minister will effectively be looking for the anticipated overrun in health spending to be paid over upfront.

However, he will guarantee the health service will then come in on budget, including the additional spending on the rollout of free GP care, and deliver on reform under the Haddington Road Agreement.

Every year for the past three years, the health budget has run over and required a supplementary estimate

The minister will aim to get the overrun this year included in the base figure for 2015.

"Give him a realistic budget next year and he won't be back look for supplementary estimates," a source familiar with the process told the Irish Independent.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin is expected to be more receptive to dealing with Mr Varadkar than his predecessor, Dr James Reilly.

The demand for an extra €500m will be an opening salvo, which is unlikely to be achieved.

This year, health spending is expected to be over by between €450m and €500m.

Last year, the Department of Health needed a €200m mini-bailout from the Exchequer.

Mr Varadkar is also planning to get his demands in early to avoid a repeat of the farce around the health budget last year.

Just five days before the Budget was announced last year, Dr Reilly made a last ditch demand for an extra €1bn bailout to reduce cuts and expand services in the health service.

The revelation added fuel to the perception the then-health minister lost control of his department and his tactics in the Budget were naïve.

Coming so far into the negotiations on Budget 2014, where every other estimate was finalised, the request to Mr Howlin was regarded as utterly lacking in credibility.

The health budget eventually ended up with cuts worth €666m, but the individual details were gradually picked apart. The sum to be saved from cuts in medical cards, known as medical card probity, was cut from an initial figure of €113m to just €23m. The initial savings target of €666m was revised downwards after €47m worth of savings were found elsewhere. "It's hard to see who won last year," a senior Government source said.

But a number of factors will be working in Mr Varadkar's favour this year. The improving economic outlook means the planned Budget adjustment of €2bn is expected to be less than €1bn.

Tanaiste Joan Burton has said there is no further scope for cuts in essential services, such as health, education and social welfare.

Irish Independent

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