Thursday 14 December 2017

Reilly stands firm after quit calls

Health Minister Dr James Reilly says he has no intention of resigning.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly says he has no intention of resigning.

Health Minister James Reilly has insisted he has no intention of quitting and claimed he is in more control of his department than ever before.

The embattled minister dismissed calls to step down because of budget overruns, the scale of the savings earmarked for next year, and controversial cuts made to medical cards.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin - a former health minister who set up the Health Service Executive (HSE) - both called for his resignation after it emerged officials from the office of An Taoiseach and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be involved in budget plans.

"I have no intention of resigning," Dr Reilly said.

"I think it's a bit rich for Micheal Martin, the architect of the HSE, the man that when we had more money than at any other time in the State made a complete mess of the health service, and the man who then presided for 716 weeks, week in week out, sitting at Cabinet with Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, (who) bankrupt the country.

"It's really just a bit tongue and cheek in my point of view coming from him."

Official figures given in last week's budget show savings in health must reach 666 million euro, but it is believed the real figure could be as high as one billion euro.

Dr Reilly said he was "absolutely in control" of his department and the Health Service Executive (HSE), with a new financial reform board and chief financial officer to oversee the books.

"It's precisely because of that I want these figures to be jointly assessed, validated and the implications of their implementation shared and understood by the Department of Public Expenditure and the Taoiseach and by all my cabinet colleagues," he continued.

"This is a cabinet decision, it's one that I sought and I'm very thankful that I got agreement on and I think that it's one that will help us fully understand the challenges that the health service faces."

Dr Reilly said there was a cause for concern in the past that a lot of money spent had been wasted in the sector, but they had faced the enormous challenge of cutting the budget and staffing levels while population and A&E admission numbers rise.

"There is no fat left in the system," he added.

"We are down to the bone and I would like everybody to understand as we go towards validating this, the implications it may have for the service plan."

Mr Martin, whose party tabled a motion of no confidence in the minister almost a year ago, said it was not good enough that people with chronic health conditions were losing their discretionary medical cards.

He said the resignation call was not about personalities but about policies and warned there will be chaos and misery in the health sector in the next 12 months if more budget cuts are imposed.

"They can impose them, but if they impose them they will do untold damage," he said.

"Consultants, nurses, care workers are ringing us on a constant basis to tell us morale is at an all-time low.

"We are hearing surgeries are being cancelled between now and the end of the year because hospitals are running out of money and that there's a slowdown in terms of getting people treated.

"I think if you try to then add anything between 600 million euro and a billion euro in terms of cuts to health next year the centre will not hold."

Independent TD Mattie McGrath argued it will not be possible to maintain a sustainable service in health with the on-going budget cuts.

"The HSE has grown to be a bloated bureaucracy that is overly focused on creating layers of middle management while the front-line staff is under-resourced and under-appreciated," he added.

"This farce of a health budget has made the lives of innumerable elderly and vulnerable people unbearable with the level of anxiety it has created and ultimately it is all down to this minister who, as it has been pointed out, seems even incapable of answering basic questions on the management of his own department."

Press Association

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