Cuts are destroying healthcare, says Reilly


“Hard, snap decisions” are being made in the health system to reduce the deficit at the end of the year, Minister for Health James Reilly has admitted.

The way cuts were being made was “tantamount to vandalising the system”, he told the Oireachtas health committee. Dr Reilly promised new controls and greater budget transparency next year would ensure a change in how budgetary decisions were made.

Responding to TDs’ concerns about cuts to home help, he acknowledged “individual hard cases” were arising where people had their hours cut. For this reason, he had established a process to ensure that no cuts in hours were made without a full assessment of a person’s needs.

Worst-case scenarios

“We tend to think of worst-case scenarios and hard cases and forget about the people who go away reasonably happy,” he said. Ireland had a good health system but we had allowed it to develop chaotically.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin had earlier condemned “cruel and immoral” cuts to home help hours for older people. In his own constituency, he said a 94-year-old man had his hours cut from 11 per week to five.

In Co Mayo, a 99-year-old man had his hours reduced from three hours a week to two without any assessment of his needs, and this was communicated to him by phone.

He also quoted the example of an 82-year-old woman in Co Cork who suffered clots on her lung earlier this year, required oxygen 24 hours a day to help with her breathing and was on Warfarin. She had been provided with one hour of home help each morning, a half-hour in the evening and two night visits per week. However, her morning hours had been cut by 15 minutes a day and her night help stopped.

Serious fall

United Left Alliance TD Seamus Healy spoke of a 94-year-old man who had one hour of home help five days a week, but this had been reduced to two hours a week. An 82-year-old who suffered a serious fall had had hours cut from five hours a week to 1½.

Labour TD Ciara Conway said her grandmother, who was 93, had seen her hours reduced to 1½ a week.

Dr Reilly repeated an earlier suggestion of charging patients €20 for failing to attend for an outpatient appointment. However, he said it was “gratuitously insulting” for a hospital to call dozens of patients for the same time.

In response to a report which shows Irish GP charges are the highest in the OECD, the Minister said he didn’t see the department paying doctors “any more” when free GP care was introduced. He promised tough negotiations and said free GP care “won’t cost a fortune”. There was no reason why a practice nurse wouldn’t see patients first and decide if they needed to see the GP.