Extra spend of up to €240m to be sought for health
Details of additional funds for the Department of Health, likely to range between €220 million and €240 million, are expected to become known today.
The supplementary budget is being provided for the department despite repeated Government assertions that no additional funding would be available to offset its cost overrun, which stands at almost €400 million.
The exact amount has to be provided to the Dáil this week in advance of the budget process.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday said the Government tried to persuade the EU-IMF-ECB troika that health spending should not be subjected to the general ceilings that apply on expenditure, but was unsuccessful.
He said the Government had raised the spending pressures on the Department of Social Protection with the troika and successfully negotiated that spending on unemployment should not be “captured” in the ceilings on spending. It had presented the same analysis in relation to health, arguing that more unemployed people were applying for medical cards, thus driving up spending. However, the troika was not prepared to accept this “as a cyclical issue in the same way”.
Defending the extra estimate for the Department of Health, Mr Howlin blamed “the huge edifice” of the HSE, created by the last administration and which made it difficult to establish what was being spent in different areas.
Conditions in the department were “uniquely challenging”, he said. And it was not possible to predict the level of demand for health services and the severity of people’s health needs.
He admitted that talks with the drug companies to reduce the cost of medicines for the State had taken longer than expected, but said the agreement reached would yield savings in the coming years.
He also admitted that the money being used for the supplementary budget was money that would consequently be unavailable for productive uses in other areas.