The Taoiseach is to keep a closer eye on the Department of Health in 2013 after a disastrous year for its minister, James Reilly.
This year saw budget overruns in Dr Reilly’s department as well as the resignation of his junior minister, Róisín Shortall, over the primary care centre controversy.
Enda Kenny effectively admitted that Dr Reilly — the deputy leader of Fine Gael — got off to a bad start in the health portfolio, but defended his ability to lead reform in the sector.
“For most new ministers it does take a period of trying to get a real handle on the department and their responsibilities,” Mr Kenny said in a pre-Christmas interview.
He said health was a particularly difficult portfolio “given its sort of structure with all the health boards squashed together and the superstructure of the HSE on top of that”, and “given the fact that it concerns, at one stage or another, every single person in the country”.
Dr Reilly attracted controversy in July when he became the first government minister to be named in Stubbs Gazette over a €1.9m unpaid debt arising from a nursing home investment that turned sour.
Dr Reilly assured the Dáil at the time that he would meet his financial obligations and that the judgment hanging over him to pay the debt would be honoured.
“I assume that is making progress,” said Mr Kenny. “I think that is at a remove from the minister himself because of the legal circumstances that applied here.”
Dr Reilly found himself under pressure again when it emerged he had added two locations in his constituency to a list of priority areas for primary care centres. Ms Shortall resigned, accusing her senior of “blatant stroke politics”.
More recently, Dr Reilly had to reverse the decision to appoint three consultants from University College Hospital Galway to the seven-person investigation team examining the death of Savita Halappanavar in the hospital.
Mr Kenny said there was “serious work ongoing” in changing the HSE, which was led by Dr Reilly.
“But it is a department I intend to work more closely with the minister on in 2013 to see that the objectives and targets we set out there are actually achieved,” said Mr Kenny.
He believed “very stron-gly” that Dr Reilly “will lead that in a really reforming way” and that fewer staff are already delivering more effective frontline services.
“I’d like to see this much stronger, of course. And hopefully when the structure is right and we follow through with the systems we want to put in place like universal health insurance and ‘Money Follows the Patient’, you will see that.”
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