Varadkar must ensure hospitals have ‘realistic’ budgets to tackle overruns

New Health Minister Leo Varadkar must ensure hospitals are given "realistic and truthful" budgets based on genuine service needs instead of wider Government requirements if he wants to solve the overruns crisis.

Irish Patients Association chairman Stephen McMahon made the call after the Irish Examiner yesterday published details of the country’s hospital budgets for the first five months of this year.

By the end of May, hospitals were already €100m over-budget — twice as high as the same period in 2013 — with some facilities spending 28% over their limits. The wider health service is expected to be €500m in the red by the end of the year. =

Mr McMahon said the only way the budget overruns problems can be fully solved is if those in power insist on providing “realistic” funding for facilities, regardless of pressure from other parts of Government.

“In the interests of patient safety and ensuring a safe service, the new minister has to be mindful of the realities in the service,” he said.

“There’s clearly a problem with budgets and therefore there’s a need for a root-and-branch reform look at this.

“There are certain realities [to hospital budgets]; you can’t ask people to oblige the State by not getting sick, so there is a need for a realistic and truthful look at the funds provided.

“The opportunity to cut the budget is going, and at this stage you’re almost into cutting the discretionary spend of bandages, lights, heat, and everything else, which is just not feasible.”

According to the HSE’s own figures, at the end of May all but five hospitals in the country were over-budget by between 10% and 28%.

Speaking in his first briefing after being announced as the health minister on Friday, Mr Varadkar said that “getting the budget back in order” will be among his priorities.

His predecessor, James Reilly, now the children’s minister, was at the centre of a behind-the-scenes row with Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin over cuts to the health service last year, while the system itself has lost over €1bn since 2008.

Medics have repeatedly warned this funding cut is impacting on staff levels in hospitals, with some junior doctors still working far in excess of European working time directive hours.

The EU warned at the weekend 20 Irish hospitals are facing fines of up to €2m for their failure to address the situation — a concern the Department of Health has previously said it would address.


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