Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted patient safety is the Government’s absolute priority as it continues to slash costs across the health service.
Facing down claims from the chiefs of four of the country’s largest hospitals that cuts to the health budget could seriously threaten the quality and safety of services, the Taoiseach said services were not being reduced.
“It’s a case here of cutting the costs of services, but not the services themselves,” Mr Kenny said.
He rejected accusations from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin that patients are not central to the Government’s plans for the struggling Health Service Executive (HSE), which is being forced to slash next year’s budget by €666m.
“I reject your assertion that patient safety is not a priority of the Government,” Mr Kenny said.
“It is the absolute priority of the Government and the Minister.”
The chief executives of St James’s, Tallaght, Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children and the Mater hospitals warned the HSE that further budget cuts would lead to safety risks.
In a joint letter to the executive, they said: “There is clear evidence that funding reductions coupled with accelerating demand have begun to seriously threaten the quality and safety of patient services.
“This has been reflected in instances of recent emergence of unacceptable delays in treatment access for certain cancer patients due to overwhelming pressures on services which negate application of conventional prioritisation processes and highly publicised sentinel events in the acute system.”
The Taoiseach insisted he would treat the letter seriously and called for the hospitals to engage with the HSE in its drafting of a service plan for 2014.
However he added that both the Tallaght and Mater hospitals have received a 3% increase in their budget as a result of “rebalancing the books”.
Mr Kenny also pledged his unwavering support for beleaguered Health Minister James Reilly amid repeated calls for his resignation.
He said Dr Reilly, his deputy leader within Fine Gael, has his confidence.
“Minister Reilly has probably the most difficult task of any minister in this Government given the nature and the complex situation he has to deal with,” he said.
The HSE is now drafting a service plan for 2014 based on the figures announced in the Budget last month.
The plan, which is to be presented to Government on November 15, will be adopted by hospitals.
Mr Kenny therefore appealed for “engagement” between the HSE and hospitals.