Enda Kenny admits Government ‘failed’ on health pledge

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has admitted his Government has “failed” to deliver on a series of health promises in a clear Coalition climbdown on the key election issue.

The Fine Gael leader conceded his party has been unable to fix the system before today’s Irish Examiner revealed that the HSE director general warned the service is facing the worst year in a decade due to a lack of funds and the “public perception” austerity is over, issues the Department of Health deleted from the final plan.

Questioned on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about his inability to develop free GP care, universal health insurance, and an end to what Fine Gael in opposition labelled “the scandal of patients on trolleys”, Mr Kenny admitted “we didn’t fulfil our promise”.

And while he argued that the only way to solve the crisis is to re-elect the Coalition, as it is best placed to further invest funding, he accepted “we failed to deliver it in the lifetime of this Government”.

“I’m the first to say that we haven’t completed what we set out to do in health, we have much more to do,” he said.

“We’ve made a good start in terms of the foundations being put in, and obviously we’ve got to invest a lot more money in health in the future.

“But there is so much more to do, and that’s another reason to keep the economy going.”

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Asked if the Coalition has broken its 2011 pre-election health promises, Mr Kenny said “we didn’t fulfil our promise, exactly” and that while it had sought to introduce universal health insurance “we haven’t been able to meet that”.

“Of course we meant it [separate promises to “end the scandal of patients on trolleys”], but we haven’t been able to deliver on it,” he admitted.

Mr Kenny’s comments came as the Irish Examiner revealed serious concerns about what awaits the system over the coming months.

Correspondence between HSE director general Tony O’Brien, Health Minister Leo Varadkar, health department secretary general James Breslin, and the Department of Public Expenditure show Mr O’Brien repeatedly raised fears over the situation.

In a letter to Mr Breslin on November 17, at the height of delays to the HSE’s 2016 budget plan, Mr O’Brien wrote that clear funding issues and “the public perception in relation to the end of austerity will make 2016 the most difficult year the health service has faced over the last 10 years”.

However, Mr Breslin’s response was to question the “realism” of the view and urge phrases such as “residual funding shortfall, residual funding deficit” and “significant operating shortfall” to be deleted from the plan.

Mr Varadkar wrote to Mr Breslin on December 5 that “a few things might need tweaking especially around presentation” and sought the increase in funding between 2015 and 2016 — the vast majority of which has gone on paying for the 2015 health overspend.

On December 10, the Department of Public Expenditure — which placed significant pressure on health officials to bring a “hard edge” to hospitals unable to stay within budget — said the plan’s publicly claimed ways to address the €150m funding shortfall in hospitals “lack detail and credibility”.

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