Reilly gives health officials more time on cuts plan

HSE officials given extra 10 days to finalise details of massive health cuts for next year

Minister for Health James Reilly who today decided to give HSE officials an extra 10 days to draw up a service plan detailing where cuts will be made to meet a spending reduction of €666 million next year. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Health James Reilly who today decided to give HSE officials an extra 10 days to draw up a service plan detailing where cuts will be made to meet a spending reduction of €666 million next year. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Wed, Oct 30, 2013, 15:49

Minister for Health James Reilly has given HSE officials an extra 10 days to draw up the service plan detailing the areas of the health service where cuts will be made to meet a spending reduction of €666 million next year.

Dr Reilly said he will be informing the HSE about the time extension granted in a letter to be sent later today. He said he was granting the extra time in view of the “complexity of the situation” and the fact that the plan is being drawn up earlier in the year than normal and won’t have to be implemented until the start of 2014.

The Minister had a formal meeting with HSE bosses last week, at which they sought extra time to draw up the plan.

The HSE is legally required to prepare a plan for the Minister within 21 days of the Budget, which meant it was due to be ready next Tuesday.

The Minister has the power to reject any plan prepared by the HSE, which he did in 2011.

This would trigger a further 21-day period during which the plan is revised.

Dr Reilly said there was “absolutely no question” of capital expenditure in health being cut in order to meet the savings target for next year.

He said he was proud to be presiding over some of the biggest capital projects the Government was undertaking, including the new national children’s hospital, the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street to St Vincent’s Hospital campus and the planned move of the Central Mental Hospital from Dundrum to Portrane.

Asked whether the planned upgrading of radiotherapy facilities in Galway and Cork would be affected by budget cuts, Dr Reilly said the service plan would set out precisely which items of expenditure were going ahead and which “might be slower for other technical reasons”.

Dr Reilly welcomed the communications campaign launched by the HSE earlier today to provide more information on the issue of medical card eligibility.

He said the campaign had been devised at his request in response to public concern on the issue.

Dr Reilly insisted there has been no slowing down in the issuing of medical cards, though he accepted there had been “teething problems” associated with the centralisation of the processing of applications.

Asked why far fewer cards have been issued this year compared to last year, he said this was because a “huge number” of cards were given out last year when a backlog of over 50,000 applications was cleared.

“People need full information around medical cards. They are naturally worried and become anxious when they can’t get full access to all the facts they need. I welcome this major campaign being rolled out by the HSE over the coming weeks which I hope will help explain clearly people’s entitlements and may ease the fears of those who have been worried unnecessarily.

“No one who is entitled to a medical card need worry. Despite the significant savings to be made by the HSE in the year ahead, nobody who is entitled to a medical card will lose it or be refused one.”

The HSE’s plan includes extra resources for the national call centre dealing with medical card enquiries, media advertisements, a new information leaflet, improved support on the HSE website and more training for frontline staff.