Health department overrun 'at €330m'

 

The financial overrun at the Department of Health has reached €330 million and may rise further by the end of the year, secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin has told an Oireachtas committee.

Dr McLoughlin said €2 billion would have to be taken out of the health budget between 2011 and 2014 to meet Government commitments and “unavoidable pressures”.

This is higher than the €1.1 billion envisaged in the National Recovery Plan, but Dr McLoughlin explained the gap by referring to the deficit and the need to make savings to fund Government initiatives such as the move toward Universal Health Insurance.

He told the Oireachtas health committee that significant progress was being made on reducing the deficit. He expressed confidence that ongoing talks with pharmaceutical companies on reducing the cost of medicine will deliver the savings predicted by the Government. However, these talks were always going to be complex and difficult.

The department was also working on recovering €125 million owed to the health service by health insurance companies, and a taskforce was engaged in recovering this money, the committee was told.

Dr McLoughlin also predicted very significant reductions in the cost of drugs for the State and for private patients would come after legislation currently before the Oireachtas on reference pricing of medicines was passed.

Absenteeism in his own department had been cut from 4 per cent to 2.8 per cent, but in another area absenteeism hit 11 per cent over the August bank holiday weekend, which was was not acceptable, he said.

Independent TD Seamus Healy said it was difficult to take the department’s plans seriously because they were so completely at odds with what was happening on the ground in hospitals, homecare services and mental health services.

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