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health budget

Taoiseach critical of HSE as 270 extra junior doctors hired with no sign-off

Government has come under pressure over its budget allocation for the health service.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that no public body, including the health service, should hire staff it doesn’t have the money for. 

Commenting in the midst of the ongoing controversy about the funding of the health service, Varadkar said the HSE breached the number of junior doctors, formally known as non-consultant hospital doctors, it was permitted to hire. 

A recruitment freeze has since been rolled out on administration staff, agency staff and junior doctors.

“The HSE had authorisation to hire 500, and it hired 770. No public body should hire staff it does not have the authority or the budget to fund. It does not happen in schools. It does not happen in Garda stations. It does not happen in Departments, and it should not happen in the health service.” 

Budget talks between Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly were described as “challenging” in the run up to last Tuesday’s budget. 

The crux of the issue being the massive overspend of more than €1 billion in this year’s health budget as well as the financial data being presented to the department, much of which was out-of-date, according to senior sources. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week radio programme following the publication of the Government’s budget last week, HSE boss Bernard Gloster said “the simple reality” is that the funding allocated to the health system is “not adequate”.  

“Make no mistake about it, our service plan for 2024 that we will put forward to the minister will include a built in deficit, which is the first time in my memory of service plans that will be the case,” he said. 

That deficit this year is expected to be around €1.5 billion, he said, adding that the Department of Health has estimated there will be roughly another €1.2 billion on top of that next year.

It is expected that another supplementary budget for health will also be needed again this year.

In recent days, the focus has shifted as to who faltered in their responsibility to adequately fund the health service – Health Minister Stephen Donnelly or Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. 

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said earlier this week that he felt the narrative around the health budget debate was becoming too personalised.

Since the onset of the issue, backbech TDs from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have criticised their opposing side’s minister, but one source said this is all “par for the course” in a coalition government. 

Varadkar said in the Dáil yesterday that he want to be “very clear” that the budget was agreed by the “entire Government” and not one or two ministers. 

The Taoiseach, in a bid to stop any coalition party in-fighting, highlighted that the “entire Government is responsible and accountable for the budget”.

“It is not agreed bilaterally between the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, and any other Minister. The budget was agreed by the Government and approved by the House. That is essentially how it works. I just want to be very clear about that,” he said.

With no sign that the issue of health will fall away from the spotlight, the Oireachtas Health Committee have requested that the Department of Health’s Secretary General Robert Watt and HSE Chief Bernard Gloster appear before the committee next Tuesday. 

The health minister is to be invited before committee the week after the Dáil mid-term recess.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane said yesterday that “it’s a very real crisis for the Government, it’s an even bigger crisis for patients and those who work on the front line”.

“We have a government that intentionally, deliberately, purposely underfunded the health service with the catastrophic consequences that will have for patient care.

“So if they want to avoid a disaster or crisis in health care, then the only way to do that now is to properly fund the health service and to give the health service more money for next year. And that will have to be done.

“If they don’t do it, then they will have to own the consequences of that, which includes having an impact on patient safety, services right across healthcare from disabilities, mental health, in our hospitals and primary community care.”



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