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Varadkar: Running health service is like feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fish

The Health Minister also ruled out a General Election in 2015.

Leo Varadkar at today's launch
Leo Varadkar at today's launch
Image: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated: 4.40pm

LEO VARADKAR HAS welcomed the fact that 2015 will see the first increase in the HSE’s budget for seven years.

The Health Minister was speaking at the launch of the HSE’s service plan for 2015, which took place in Dublin this afternoon.

Varadkar said he doesn’t often quote scripture, but thought one particular passage seemed appropriate for today, namely: Luke 9:16.

“The parable of the loaves and fishes: that’s what we’ve tried to do, feed the 5,000.”

Varadkar said he didn’t want to “overpromise” what the HSE could do next year, noting that issues such as waiting lists and late discharges will be eased but not eliminated.

He described the health service as “very battered and very bruised”, adding this plan was the “first step in nursing our health service back to health”.

In 2015 the HSE will have an extra €115 million in funding, compared to this year.

  • €25m is being provided to ease the problem of delayed discharges
  • €35 has been set aside for mental health services
  • €25 million for free GP care for under-6s
  • €12 million for free GP for over 70s
  • €20 for disability services, and €55 million for ICT development
  • €5m is being provided for 400 extra home care packages to benefit 600 people

A further €3 million will be spent next month to address delayed discharges. Varadkar was quick to point out that this is separate to the €25 million outlined above. “It’s €28 million altogether, not €22 million – I’m not trying to pull a fast one.”

HSE chief Tony O’Brien welcomed what he described as a “modest” increase in the body’s funding.

He said the increase would led to a “challenging but realistic” budget.

Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch also welcomed the measures outlined in the plan, stating:

We won’t be losing the run of ourselves but it does give us a degree of comfort.

Lynch noted that the mental health sector has struggled to fill vacancies, despite opening up the recruitment process to Europe. She said this was an issue that needed to be seriously looked at.

She added that background work on introducing free GP care for under-6s and over-70s was “well under way”.

Varadkar said that there would be a €15 million increase in funding to develop the HSE’s ICT system, which he described as “woefully underfunded” and “not in the 21st century”.

O’Brien noted that a “scorecard system” would be introduced to ensure managers met their targets on a monthly basis. If this happens repeatedly, sanctions will occur, where the worst-case scenario for a manager would be them being subject to the disciplinary process. 

The HSE is expected to overrun its budget by €550 million this year. Varadkar said he couldn’t rule out an overrun in 2015. If it does occur, the money will be a ”first charge” on HSE’s budget for 2016, under new rules being brought in next year.

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Liam Doran, General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association, said the the service plan was “more focused and realistic” than in previous years.

However, he added: “It simply provides for an overstretched, overworked and under resourced health service to continue managing crises every day. Faced with this reality the health service requires additional resources.  

The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) welcomed the allocation of an extra €20 million to disability services, but said the plan doesn’t go far enough.

John Dolan, CEO of DFI, said the money “doesn’t even start to plug the gaping hole that has been left by cuts of €159 million since 2008″.

“The demand for disability services is continuing to increase with our aging population and people with disabilities living longer. Over 4,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every year, one person a week will sustain a spinal cord injury.

“This modest investment will be quickly subsumed by the increasing demand on disability services and will not allow for services to be advanced,” Dolan stated.

Following the publication, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warned of a “very difficult year” ahead.

Professor Trevor Duffy, IMO president, welcomed “the end to a cycle of brutal cuts to the budget” but warned that the plan had “literally no margin for additional demand” and would, at best, “maintain current overstretched services at current unacceptable levels.”

The Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association Fintan Hourihan, said dentists were shocked that there was no provision to increase funds towards the costs of dental care treatment for medical card holders in 2015.

Opposition

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Health Billy Kelleher says the plan will do nothing to eliminate lengthy waiting lists or reduce the pressure on frontline staff across the health service.

“The government is continuing to renege on commitments it made on mental health funding; the announcement today is €15 million short of what was promised. If the Minister for Health was honouring the commitments made in the Programme for Government, €50 million would be provided in 2015.  Once again, it is the most vulnerable people that will lose out under this questionable budget,” Kelleher said.

“Clearly it is going to be another difficult year for our health services, and this budget leaves no room for manoeuvre,” he added.

Originally published: 1.48pm

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Órla Ryan

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