A FIANNA FÁIL TD has told the senior civil servant at the Department of Health – who only took the position six months ago – to resign, telling him he is “a disgrace as a public official”.
Seán Fleming, the party’s public expenditure spokesman, walked out of the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee after Dr Ambrose McLoughlin said he could not answer an early question about the delay in reaching a deal to cut the price paid by the State for prescription drugs.
McLoughlin – who is also the chairman of the HSE, by virtue of his Department position – said he was legally barred from answering questions on government policy. That prompted a furious outburst from Fleming, who then left the meeting.
“You’re a disgrace as a public official,” the Laois-Offaly TD charged.
You are not fit for office as chairman of the HSE. You should resign. You are a disgrace.
I’m leaving this room. I won’t sit here any further, to this charade of a meeting, which is a disgrace to the Oireachtas and to the people of Ireland.
Both McLoughlin and the HSE’s incoming chief executive Tony O’Brien had opened the meeting by expressing unease at how they had received a draft report from the committee yesterday evening, which made regular reference to policy matters they could not discuss.
Committee chairman John McGuinness, of Fianna Fáil, said the draft report was “not a big issue” – and that it had only been sent to McLoughlin and O’Brien so that they could correct any factual errors in it.
Both Labour’s Michael McCarthy and Fine Gael’s Simon Harris expressed regret at Fleming’s behaviour. Harris said on examining HSE figures for July, he could not find a single hospital which was within its budget by that time.
O’Brien said the higher-than-expected attendances at emergency wards, and the larger numbers who are eligible for medical cards, would contribute to about €200 million of the HSE’s deficit.
That deficit, at the end of September, stood at €374 million. It had been €329 million at the end of August.