Government in climbdown on cuts to disability services

Tue, Sep 4, 2012, 01:00

The Government has tonight announced a climbdown on cuts to services for older and disabled people.

In a statement issued shortly before 9pm, the Department of Health said Minister for Health Dr James Reilly had instructed the HSE “to continue to provide services to people in receipt of personal assistant services in accordance with their needs”.

The statement, which came after the first Cabinet meeting since the summer Dáil recess, said savings still had to be achieved out of the €1.4 billion disability budget.

The Minister told the HSE to distribute these across the sector with a focus on cutting administration, training and travel costs, the department added.

The U-turn follows a storm of criticism since the HSE last week announced the cuts, which appeared to create divisions within the Coalition.

Cuts in spending on home help services are still expected go ahead, and the HSE still plans to make total savings of €130 million in the rest of the year in order to stem its budget deficit.

“The Minister will receive regular reports from the HSE on the measures and will keep regularly reviewing the application of these measures to ensure that they are being applied as fairly and sympathetically as possible,” the department said.

Sinn Féin said the decision highlighted the fact that the health service was being run in a chaotic manner.

The Taoiseach and senior Ministers sought to play down reports of rifts between the Government partners ahead of this afternoon’s Cabinet meeting.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Enda Kenny said the Government had to get on with the job of making tough decisions and that December’s budget would be the most challenging of the Government’s period.

“The silly season is now over and Government gets down to real work making the decisions in respect of sorting out our country’s public finances, making decisions that will make it more competitive for us to attract inward investment and the creation of jobs and making sure that services for those who need them…that we are in a position to deliver those," he said.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said there were no “serious divisions” between the coalition partners. He said the Government faced significant challenges and would meet those challenges together.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore attacked Fianna Fáil after it warned it would table a motion of no confidence in Dr Reilly.

The Labour leader defended the Fine Gael Minister and accused the Opposition of hypocrisy over its criticism of the health service.

Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said yesterday it was not credible for Government backbenchers to suggest the recent announcement of a €130 million cost-reduction package by the Health Service Executive was a surprise.

“Whingeing and pretending that you were surprised by budget figures that were agreed last December is not really credible,” she said in an interview with The Irish Times.

“We all went into the Dáil chamber and voted for it, including all of the members of Labour and all of the members of Fine Gael. So let’s have the courage to stand over what we voted for last December and don’t pretend that it’s a surprise that the Department of Health has to meet certain targets.”

Ms Creighton called on “people who’ve never been TDs before” to act calmly and maturely. “We need them to just be a little bit steadier, cooler, stop getting so panicked.”

Her comments were aimed at, among others, Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney, who said at the weekend it would be wrong for his party not to prepare for a general election.

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