Sasko Lazarov
health budget

Donohoe won't get into 'war of words' over health budget, says financial controls are needed

The minister says financial controls need to be put in place to deal with health overspends.

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE MINISTER Paschal Donohoe said he would not get into a “war of words” about the health budget spat that has played out since last week, stating the “financial controls” must be put in place. 

Criticism over the €22.5 billion health budget has been levelled at the government, with a blame game playing out between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as to who signed off on it. 

HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster has warned that the amount is not adequate to run the health service at the same levels as this year.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that the HSE has been breaching its hiring allocation in some areas, with 270 junior doctors hired above the approved hire figures. 

The Department of Health is already facing an overspend of around €1.5 billion this year – an overrun that will require a supplementary estimate allocation for 2023.

Donohoe said today that he could not guarantee that there wouldn’t be another deficit in the health budget this time next year. 

On Budget day last week, Donohoe told The Journal that he would be working “closely” with the health minister on health spending this year, stating that spending frameworks would be rolled out. 

Going into more detail about what this might look like, the minister said the oversight committee between the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Health will play a key role. 

“I understandably will make the case that there are issues in relation to financial control and management that do need a continued focus and we need to be better on.

“But I’m also conscious of the fact that in the aftermath of the pandemic, some of the activity and some of the changes that in particular our hospitals are experiencing, is different to what we would have expected.

“That is why we’ve increased the covid reserve by half a billion euro for the health service and one of the issues that I’ll be working with [Health Minister Stephen Donnelly] on in the time ahead will be, in addition to management and accounting issues which both of us acknowledge are there, to properly interrogate the demand in our health services and what impact that has on budgeting.

He would not be drawn into comments on an tensions between the coalition parties on the issue, dismissing any suggestion that any meaning can be drawn from the leaders discussing it at their regular Monday night meeting this week. 

He added: “I have the height of respect for Minister Donnelly as a progressive, ambitious and highly effective minister for health,” he said. 

 “I’m not going to be engaging in a war of words with anybody. I have the height of respect for Minister Donnelly as a progressive, ambitious and highly effective minister for health.”