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Government "cooked the books" on Health budget --- Martin

The Fianna Fáil leader is accusing the Government of acting ‘fraudulently’ on the issue.

Michéal Martin, at the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon today.
Michéal Martin, at the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon today.
Image: Daragh Brophy/TheJournal.ie

Updated at 5.29pm

MICHEÁL MARTIN HAS accused the Government of acting ‘fraudulently’ in how it established the budget for the Department of Health for this year.

It follows reports at the weekend that HSE Director General Tony O’Brien warned last year that the budget and service plan being prepared for the health service was “unsafe and unrealistic”.

According to the Sunday Independent, O’Brien told then-health minister James Reilly and the Department’s Secretary General in correspondence that the cuts being proposed would place patient safety at risk.

“They cooked the books last year,” the Fianna Fáil leader said.

He said the Government had deliberately and consciously misled the Dáil and voters on the issue.

“The CEO of the HSE said that the Budget you’re forcing me to adopt is compromising patient safety,” Martin told reporters at the Fianna Fáil think-in in Roscommon this afternoon.

According to Irish Health, which also reported on the story last month, O’Brien also warned the Department of major difficulties with the planned savings of €113 million in medical card ‘probity’.

O’Brien said that the withdrawal of 225,000 medical cards on the basis of probity was ‘improbable’. The Minister was also told that the Budget target of €108 million in further ‘unspecified’ payroll savings would not be achievable this year.

Martin said he thought the revelations were “truly scandalous” and that the correspondence had revealed…

“…essentially that the Taoiseach, then-Minister Reilly and the Government knowingly put patient safety at risk over the last 12 months.

They approved a budget knowing it was not sufficient to safeguard patient safety and that is absolutely appalling and unacceptable.

Martin, himself a former health minister, attacked the coalition on several fronts on the issue of health services as his TDs and senators gathered for their pre-Dáil conference at the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon.

“We’ve also learned that the Government and the Taoiseach have lived a lie for the last three years in relation to the health reform proposals,” he said, accusing the coalition of presiding over a “complete sham”.

It follows the much-publicised remarks from Minister Leo Varadkar last week on the shelving of several of the Government’s key policy plans.

And he called for a new system of parliamentary oversight to be brought-in, to ensure there’s “full transparency” when it comes to drawing-up the Budget in future.

He said the Oireachtas should have “an independent budgetary office that would assess independently the Budget estimates and that would make independent assessments and analysis of budgets”.

“Given the fraudulent manner in which the health budget was conducted last year I think it’s imperative,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jerry Buttimer — chair of the Oireachtas Health Committee, and a fellow Cork South Central TD of the Fianna Fáil leader — insisted Martin’s stance was “utterly compromised by his party’s long standing lack of a policy on health”.

Claiming FF have ‘no policy’ on health, he said:

As Micheál Martin knows well the economic legacy of Fianna Fáil is a major part of the problems facing our health service today.

“It is impossible to talk about the challenges facing the health sector without taking account of the huge budget reductions that have been necessary thanks to Fianna Fáil’s mismanagement of the economy.”

[TheJournal.ie has asked the Department of Health for a response to Martin's remarks about the correspondence from O'Brien to Minister Reilly.]

Earlier:  Taoiseach rounds on ‘Sir Humphreys’ in Health Department

Read:  Tax cuts shouldn’t come at expense of health services, Varadkar warns

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