€130m in health cuts, but no sign of Reilly

Health Minister James Reilly was nowhere to be seen as another raft of cuts to health services were confirmed by the HSE.

As the HSE outlined the €130m in cutbacks that will hit agency workers and overtime, home help hours, homecare packages, and medical card entitlements, opposition parties accused Dr Reilly of misleading the Dáil and the public. Among the measures announced by the HSE to tackle the deficit of €259m are:

* 50% cuts to agency staff and 10% cut to overtime — saving €35m;

* 5.5% cut to home help hours — saving €10.8m; nCuts to 200 homecare packages — saving about €1.7m;

* Reduction of personal assistant hours — saving €10m.

In addition, more than 50,000 medical card holders will no longer qualify for a range of drugs and nutritional supplements.

The HSE said it was “inevitable” that some impact on service delivery would be experienced as a result of the cuts.

Defending the cuts, the health authority said it had to take action to cut costs otherwise the deficit could reach €500m by the end of the year.

It said it had issued 33,000 medical cards over and above its projections, which added about €100m to the current budget deficit.

Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association said the cuts were “very disturbing” at a time when €170m was being paid out in automatic pay increases this year under the Croke Park deal.

“I have serious concerns about patient safety, not just over the next four months, but next year when a further €700m will be taken out of the health system.”

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Liam Doran said the “draconian cuts” would harm frontline services.

“They will definitely jeopardise the ability of nurses and midwives to provide safe care,” he said.

The director of Older and Bolder, Patricia Conboy, said the cuts were shocking and tantamount to turning off the life-support machine on services that were already thin on the ground.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said Dr Reilly had a duty to stand up and explain what was going on.

“People across the country are wondering, where is their minister for health and who is in charge?

“We have heard nothing from him all summer despite a litany of controversies over his mishandling of the health budget.

“He has failed to communicate in any way with the public, but still found the time to email his own Fine Gael colleagues about cuts in their area. This smacks of arrogance and shows a total lack of accountability.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore also signalled that he still wants to see consultants’ pay cut — sending Labour on another potential clash course with Dr Reilly.

A spokesman for the minister acknowledged that he had not been working from the department yesterday but said he was in Ireland and had “hardly been off the phone” all day.

“He was dealing with the secretary general [of the department] and various other people constantly through the day directing the various things that had to go on.”

Asked why the minister did not appear in person to announce the details of the cuts, the spokesman said: “Because the HSE was actually announcing the savings that it is making.”

He said Dr Reilly was working with the Department of Public Expenditure and the HSE to identify wider savings and an announcement in that regard would be made next week.

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