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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 29 January, 2020
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Taoiseach accused of 'window dressing exercise' as HSE spending plan announced

Leo Varadkar insisted some politicians had been “scaremongering” over the children’s hospital overspend.

Construction of the new National Children's Hospital in Dublin
Construction of the new National Children's Hospital in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal

FORMER MINISTER ALAN Kelly accused the government of carrying out an exercise in “window dressing” today as the Taoiseach and various ministers launched the latest HSE spending plan.

250 projects are being funded as part of the new capital plan for the health service, the government said this morning – including funding for 30 new primary care centres and two new emergency departments. 

Leo Varadkar launched the plan at an event at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, accompanied by Minister for Health Simon Harris, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and a number of junior ministers.

Ministers sought to play down the National Children’s Hospital controversy as they outlined the planned investments, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisting that some politicians had been “scaremongering” about the project’s cost overrun.

Varadkar said “totally fake” claims had been made on how other projects would be affected by the overspend.

A figure of €983 million for the new hospital at the St James’s site in Dublin was approved by government in 2017, but the Public Accounts Committee heard earlier this year that the cost could rise to over €2 billion. A PWC report on the controversy, published in April, put the likely final cost at €1.7 billion.

“Projects do get delayed from time to time but not because of the National Children’s Hospital, they get delayed for lots of different reasons,” Varadkar said the press briefing today. 

“I think this is a useful figure for people to understand: The National Children’s Hospital is a very expensive project and it is costing more than we thought it would but it still only accounts for 0.4% of total government spending this year and less than 1.5% of the health budget. 

We still have lots of money for other projects all over the country, 250 of them being set out in this programme today. 

Asked whether a hard Brexit or global downturn could impede the plans being discussed at today’s event Varadkar said: 

It is the case that developments in the wider economy like, for example, a hard Brexit or a slowdown internationally can impact on the public finances but we are actually in a very good position in terms of our public finances. 

Kelly, the Labour Party’s health spokesperson, said that many of the projects listed in the plan announced today were already known about “or are underway”.

He pointed out that the 2019 plan was being published eight months into the year, and added, in reference to the children’s hospital overrun: “In media interviews today, the Minister for Health has said it is not true to say that projects are being delayed, it’s because many projects now won’t happen at all.”

He added: “The delay in this plan being published shows the Children’s Hospital overspend is coming home to roost.”

In his speech at the event, Harris said that no-one in the country would regret building the children’s hospital.

Whoever is health minister when it’s completed, politicians “will be tripping over themselves” to go to the  launch, Harris said. 

This morning’s announcement comes against a backdrop of continuing negative headlines on developments in the health service, including a report this morning that overcrowding for August was, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the worst ever recorded in that month in Ireland. 

Hospital waiting lists for outpatient appointments also reached a new high during the summer, with more than half a million people awaiting an appointment at the end of July. 

The Taoiseach also answered questions about Brexit and tomorrow’s visit to Dublin of Mike Pence, where Brexit will also be high on the agenda.

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Daragh Brophy

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