Health cuts 'will see waiting times rise'

Mon, Dec 5, 2011, 00:00

Opposition parties have hit out at the cut in the health service budget, saying it will lead to an increase in patient waiting times as frontline services are hit.

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said the Government’s announcement to take €543 million out of next year’s health budget will see will have a “massive” effect on services.

He said the reduction of staff numbers coupled with a 10 per cent reduction in overtime and allowances will also lead to health service units having to close as they will not have adequate staffing.

Under the Government’s plan, legislation will be introduced to abolish the existing system of designated private-public beds in public hospitals and to allow hospitals to raise charges in respect of all private patients.

Mr Kelleher said this will result in public patients having to wait longer as management are incentivised to treat more private patients.

“It will enhance the two-tier system in the health service and will also drive up health insurance costs for those who can still afford it,” he added.

And health insurer VHI later said the legislation if implemented in full will double what it pays for customers attending public hospitals which in turn could lead to a premium increase “of at least 50 per cent”.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the cut as “savage” adding that it will have a “devastating” effect on health services.

“Thousands more front-line posts will be lost over the next three years as a result of the savage cuts being imposed by Minister for Health James Reilly," he said.

“Our hospitals and other services are under enormous pressure and these further attacks will deepen the crisis,” he added.

Meanwhile lobby groups have welcomed the allocation of €35 million for services in the area of mental health.

Chairman of the Mental Health Commission Dr Edmond O’Dea said at “a time of great pressure” on the public finances it is a “relief” the Government sees the development of mental health services as a priority.

Dr O’Dea called for the appointment of a Directorate of Mental Health Services to oversee the move towards community based services.

“Progress has been made in recent years in reducing the numbers of patients who are in institutional care, but that process can only continue at the pace required if community mental health teams are established to provide modern and appropriate treatment services,” he added.

Mental Health Reform, the national umbrella group for the area, echoed the call for a directorate.

Director Orla Barry said while the €35 million earmarked was welcome the money could be lost within the wider HSE unless “a person with budgetary authority and full accountability is put in place now”,

“It is crucial that this additional money is used to develop community mental health services and protected in such a way that it cannot be used for anything but the development of community mental health teams to provide a range of supports to enable recovery as outlined in Government policy”, she added.

General secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) Des Kavanagh also warned the money needed to be ring-fenced to avoid being “pocketed” for use elsewhere in the health service.

Although welcoming the €35 million Mr Kavanagh said the overall cut of 2 per cent in the Mental Health budget will have a net effect of €21 million in additional funding for 2012.

“Even with today’s announcement we will still be working on a budget nearly €60 million less than what it was in 2006.

“We will still be a long way short of the recommended 8.2 per cent of the Health Budget recommended in Vision for Change” he added.