None of 255 primary care posts announced last July have materialised — and the €20m earmarked to fund them has gone towards plugging a €399m hole in the health budget.
Taken together with failure to extend, as promised, free GP care to those with certain illnesses, James Reilly, the health minister, has held back €35m from primary care this year.
This is despite the fact that the beleaguered minister has repeatedly emphasised the crucial role of primary care in his plans to reform the health service, central to the introduction of universal health care.
This latest revelation will heap further pressure on Dr Reilly, who has survived no-confidence motions in his ability to manage the health service.
The department confirmed none of the money was spent as promised and that it was “retained in the health budget to meet the increased demand for services provided by the Health Service Executive,” including an extra 145,000 medical cards.
Announcing the posts last July, Dr Reilly described them as “key frontline staff” to include public health nurses, registered general nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational, speech, and language therapists.
He said investment in primary care was “central to the modernisation of the Irish health service” and that the promised posts would be funded “by a special allocation of €20m which was set aside as part of the HSE’s 2012 National Service Plan”. However, not a single post came to pass.
A department statement, said: “It was not possible to fill these posts in 2012” but it hoped to do so in 2013.
This revised timeline has also been applied to the extension of free GP care, which should have happened last March.
Dr Reilly has consistently blamed legislative challenges for this delay. However, former primary care minister Roisín Shortall said the legislation was finalised last July, before the summer recess.
She said: “But when I came back in September, the €15m was gone. I understand the decision had been taken at the HSE’s July meeting, but I wasn’t told.”
In relation to the filling of 255 posts in primary care, Ms Shortall said Dr Reilly had given her “40 different reasons” why it could not happen in 2012, but had then “gone ahead himself and announced it anyway”.
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