Tuesday 17 September 2019

Warnings over state of health service in confidence and supply talks

Stock picture
Stock picture

Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs were briefed on the dire state of the country's health service during the first day of official negotiations on the confidence and supply agreement.

Department of Health Secretary General Jim Breslin gave an extensive presentation to negotiators which highlighted the key pressure points which have dramatically reduced public confidence in the health service.

Mr Breslin set out serious issues surrounding waiting lists, hospital trolleys, mental health services and the renegotiation of the GP contract.

After the presentation, Fianna Fáil TDs questioned the secretary general about health spending and other areas of the health service which have come under strain in recent years.

Sources at the meeting said it was "professional" and "non adversarial". The five-hour meeting concluded with the two parties agreeing to meet again next week.

In a statement the parties said: "Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael met again today for over five hours to discuss the confidence and supply arrangement with a particular emphasis on the health sector. The discussions in the afternoon included a presentation from the secretary general of the Department of Health. There will be continued engagement early next week," they added.

It is understood the negotiations around health have not concluded and the parties will revisit the issue at future meetings.

A Fine Gael source said the majority of the commitments on health in the confidence and supply agreement have been met.

The source said they expect Fianna Fáil to put greater emphasis on health if the parties are to sign up to another agreement.

Senior sources in both parties yesterday said they expect the deal to be extended for one more budget.

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said there was no need to "drag" out discussion on the agreement as the deal is reviewed every week through Dáil debates.

"They know on their side what's been done or what more needs to be done and we both have an idea of what we think we need to do over the coming year or two years," Mr Murphy said. "So there's no need for this to go on for too long a period. It's in the country's interest that we come to certainty and stability on this as quickly as possible given the great uncertainty that's out there around Brexit and other things that are happening," he added.

The confidence and supply agreement is set to officially expire by the end of December.

Fianna Fáil said talks on reviewing the current agreement may not be completed until the end of the year and only then would negotiations on a new deal begin.

Irish Independent

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