Some €53m of health investment to offset budget deficit


THE DEPARTMENT of Health has confirmed only €17 million out of a total of €70 million allocated this year for new investment in mental health and primary care services will actually be spent in 2012.

In a statement, it said €53 million of the €70 million originally set aside for new developments will now be used “on a once-off basis against the deficit this year”.

The Government had allocated €35 million for new developments in mental health services, €20 million for investment in primary care services and €15 million to pay for the first phase of the extension of free GP care.

In its statement, the Department of Health said: “It is now envisaged that costs associated with these initiatives, predominantly additional staffing costs, will not be drawn down until the final quarter.

“This also includes the extension of GP care, the legislation for which is unlikely to be approved by the Oireachtas before the late autumn. Given these timing issues and following discussions with the HSE, it has been estimated that approximately €53 million of the €70 million set aside will not be required in 2012.

“This funding is being used on a once-off basis against the deficit this year – it will, however, be required in 2013 to meet the full-year costs of the initiatives commenced in 2012.”

On Thursday, Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch said she wanted “to dispel any notion of further cuts to the mental health budget to offset the current HSE deficit”.

This followed a report in The Irish Times on Thursday that €50 million originally allocated for development funding in the health service this year was to be diverted to tackle the HSE’s financial deficit.

The €35 million allocated for mental health developments was to have led to the establishment of 414 posts.

In a separate statement, the HSE said a recruitment process to fill 353 of these posts was currently under way, and that this would continue.

The HSE said it was anticipated the majority of the positions would be filled by the end of the year.

However, it added: “The precise timeline for candidates taking up posts will be impacted by various factors including responses from candidates to offers, checking references, Garda clearance and the successful candidate’s availability/start date, etc.”

The HSE said a number of initiatives funded from the €35 investment fund for mental health this year were under way. “This includes €2 million to Genio to accelerate innovative practice and service modernisation in mental health in line with A Vision for Change.

“€5 million has been provided for the introduction of the counselling in primary care initiative and €2 million has been provided for initiatives to enhance team-working and support the delivery of effective community mental health service.

“[A total of] €3 million has been allocated to the National Office of Suicide Prevention for the implementation of Reach Out .”

The diversion of the €53 million originally earmarked for investment in new services for use instead in tackling the HSE deficit is expected to be included in a series of new measures to be announced by the Government in the coming days.

Other measures include cutting capital spending by €28 million and using €10 million originally allocated to the budget of the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

The Government also anticipates receiving €45 million from a UK-based medical indemnity company in settlement of a lengthy dispute.