Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has welcomed indications from his junior ministerial colleague John Halligan that the Waterford TD is staying in Government for now, but stressed that there should be no “political considerations” in healthcare decisions.
Speaking in Carrigaline, Co Cork, at the opening of a new Department of Social Protection Intreo office, Mr Varadkar said key decisions were being left to doctors and clinical planners and that “it would be a major step backwards now if politicians started to adjudicate on clinical evidence”.
It came after Mr Halligan, the minister of state for training and skills, had initially said he may have no choice but to resign from Government after a consultant review found University Hospital Waterford did not require a second cath lab in its cardiac unit.
“One of the good things that has happened in Irish healthcare in the last 10 or 20 years is that we have taken some of the politics out of it,” Mr Varadkar said.
“My opinion has always been that when it comes to deciding where specialist centres should be located — whether they are regional or national specialities — it should be done on clinical grounds.”
“It should not be for political considerations and that is the line I held as minister for health and I am glad to see that Minister Simon Harris is holding that line as well.”
However, Mr Halligan said that while he was staying in Government for now, he ultimately felt the Government would have little option but to reverse its current position based on the consultant review by Belfast-based cardiologist Niall Herity.
Regarding commitments made during talks to form the Government, Mr Varadkar said: “In my negotiations I always said to John — who is a very good person and very committed to politics and his region — I couldn’t make him a cast-iron promise because if I had made a cast-iron promise to him I might have made a liar of me and a fool out of him.”
“That is why a cast-iron promise was not made. The promise that was made is written in black and white in the Programme for Government.”
“We said we would find the resources for a second [Waterford] lab but that it would have to be subject to an independent clinical review.”
Mr Varadkar dismissed a question about the future leadership of Fine Gael and stressed that all ministers now needed to focus on their briefs and on delivering for the Irish people ahead of “a mildly expansionary budget” next month.
He said the Programme for Government can be delivered over five years, but added: “If we start adding in new demands now that would make it very difficult.”
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