Monday 18 December 2017

Tensions rise as Reilly fails to tell Shortall about HSE chief's exit

James Reilly. Photo: Collins
James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Health Service Executive chief Cathal Magee who has left the agency

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly saw his relationship with his Junior Minister Roisin Shortall plunge to a new low last night in the row over the departure of HSE chief executive Cathal Magee.

The tensions are mounting over the failure to tackle the €280m deficit in the health service, which means that cuts to frontline services later this year are inevitable unless action is taken by Dr Reilly.

Ms Shortall yesterday issued a terse statement to complain that she had not learned about the departure of Mr Magee until it was announced in the media yesterday.

But Dr Reilly had been told of the news five days earlier -- when Mr Magee contacted the head of his department. It is understood that the two ministers are still on speaking terms but they have very little regular contact -- a major problem given that Ms Shortall is the Junior Minister for Primary Care.

Failure

A Labour source said that it was not just a communications problem but a disagreement about Dr Reilly's failure to tackle the deficit in the health budget, which could rise to €500m by the end of this year.

He has not yet delivered on his budget promise to charge all public patients for private beds and has only secured €10m of a promised €124m saving in drugs bills.

But a spokesman for Dr Reilly said work on achieving this was ongoing. He said that there was a very solid working relationship between Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall.

The spokesman also said the reason Dr Reilly did not tell Ms Shortall about Mr Magee's departure was because of the "confidential nature" of the HSE chief executive's message last Friday. And he said that for this same reason, Dr Reilly did not brief the cabinet about it yesterday either.

There has previously been feuding between Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall about the operation of the health service. She criticised his "kite-flying" last year about possible Budget health cuts, which she said had caused a lot of unnecessary alarm among older people.

Ms Shortall made it clear yesterday that she was very disappointed with the decision by Mr Magee to quit.

"Cathal Magee's departure is a significant blow to the health service and in this very challenging time of severe budgeted pressures he will be badly missed," she said.

In the Dail yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced to deny claims from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin that Dr Reilly was a "volatile minister" who was forcing out senior health managers. And he defended the changes being made to the running of the HSE.

"There will be a much clearer line of accountability in respect of moneys voted by the Oireachtas for the provision of health services," he said.

Irish Independent

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