Health Minister Simon Harris admits the HSE is failing to stay within budget, but denies he may be forced to slash vital services if the extra money isn’t found.
The minister admitted the budget overruns as he came under pressure from the opposition over the ongoing Orkambi cystic fibrosis drug controversy and claims this year’s health service funding plan fraudulently tried to convince voters the system was under control before the election.
Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings, Mr Harris confirmed that the HSE — which under new EU rules cannot receive a supplementary budget this year — was already €120m over-budget by March and is failing to keep its spending under control.
The Fine Gael minister admitted the system is continuing to face “challenges” and that the imminent budgetary estimates due later this month are likely to be changed to account for the increased financial needs of the under-pressure system.
However, despite confirming the stark problems facing the health service and the EU ban on a supplementary budget, Mr Harris did not clarify where this extra money will come from and denied that the reality is that services will be cut to bring spending under control.
“My colleague in the Department of Public Expenditure [Minister Paschal Donohoe] did say in the Dáil he was looking at the budget estimates and the Taoiseach did also confirm yesterday some departments will also have their estimates revised.
“I don’t have any intention to cut back on services this year, but €120m is the HSE overrun for the first three months this year.”
Asked if, given the admission, the HSE’s budget plan for this year was “fraudulent” and focussed solely on pre-election PR — a claim made by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, but denied by ex-health minister Leo Varadkar — Mr Harris said the “challenges” can be overcome.
At a later Dáil debate, Mr Harris came under further opposition pressure over the Orkambi cystic fibrosis drug but stressed that anyone receiving the medication will continue to do so while negotiations take place.
Tackled on the need for extra resources in the system, Mr Harris said the money is being sought but there are a number of government demands, and pointed to the fact that “if the Garda commissioner needs 1,000 more staff” it still takes time.
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