Government accused of plugging spending gap in health with extra €500m

Simon Harris

The Government has been accused of plugging a spending gap in health with an extra €500m because of “bogus” budget figures which were provided before the general election.

Ministers yesterday insisted the extra funding, to go on frontline services, was “new” money and was due to increased economic growth and extra tax receipts.

There would be no more “blank cheques” for the health service, insisted ministers, who also promised that the extra funding would not result in cuts.

The Cabinet yesterday signed off on a book of estimates for this year — essentially revised spending projections for departments up until the end of 2016.

Health will get an extra €500m while justice will get an additional €40m.

Spending pressures, including in hospitals, resulted in the extra health spend, according to the Department of Public Expenditure, as well as the need to ensure certain services are maintained.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the extra money would reinstate the €35m mental health annual budget, and help provide for the winter initiative and home help care.

The HSE overspend was €120m for the first three months of this year.

Mr Harris said there could be no supplementary budget for health later this year, “no blank cheque” for services. The health budget allocated for 2016 is €14.1bn, he said.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said the extra funding for the departments would come from increased economic growth and tax receipts, but he refused to be specific. The “new” funding, he said, is “additional resources being provided in a “transparent manner”.

Paschal Donohoe
Paschal Donohoe

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin took issue with the additional money for health. He pointed out that after the budget, his party warned that the health budget was “fraudulent”.

“Every year for the past three to four years the budgetary figures in respect of health were false. They could never have stood up, and subsequently did not.”

Mr Martin asked if the extra €500m would provide for additional services or whether it was a sticking plaster to deliver current levels of service.

Responding during Leaders’ Questions, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “We are in a position to do this because of the strengthening of the economy and growth in the economy.”

Mr Martin insisted the HSE itself had pointed out, before the general election, there was an under-provision for the health service. “The reason for the allocation announced today is because the budget provision at the commencement of the year was inaccurate and false,” he said.

Micheál Martin
Micheál Martin

Fianna Fáil said the previous health budget estimate was “bogus”. Mr Martin said there had been a “massaging of the figures” before the general election.

The new estimates will be debated and published in the coming weeks before the Government forecasts its budget options in the summer economic statement.

Responding to the extra funding, HSE director general Tony O’Brien said the money would “stabilise” its finances for 2016.

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