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Headaches for Harney as she returns to desk

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney was due back at her desk today as public anger mounted over a series of crises.

Ms Harney was out of the country as swine flu once again gripped the country.

Rows over VHI premium hikes and patients on hospital trolleys also raged in the minister's absence.

Ms Harney was back with a bang today as she was finally forced to deal with the issues.

Criticism was levelled at her for not returning sooner to tackle the problems in the health system.

There was intense anger at the VHI's decision to increase its private health insurance premiums by as much as 45pc.

National Consumer Agency chief executive Ann Fitzgerald described the price rises as “outrageous” and “extraordinary in the current economic climate”.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly claimed that the increases were an “utter betrayal of the VHI's most loyal customers”.

He criticised Ms Harney for being absent during what he described as one of the worst crises to hit the health sector in recent years.

“We have swine flu on the increase, unprecedented numbers of patients on trolleys and the VHI in free fall. She should be out there showing solidarity with patients, staff and consumers,” he said.

The number of swine flu cases doubled last week, with 114 hospitalised since October.

However, Ms Harney's adviser said she would not be returning before the weekend.

One Dublin mum had to rush her 18-month-old son to Crumlin Hospital when he suddenly developed serious swine flu symptoms.

The tot went into a convulsion, began vomiting, had a high temperature and was unresponsive