Labour Ministers at odds over health cuts


TWO LABOUR Ministers were at odds yesterday in their accounts of this week’s events in relation to health cuts planned by Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly.

Minister of State for Primary Care Róisín Shortall told reporters in Dublin: “I very much welcome the decision that has been taken to revisit these cuts. It was unfortunate that they were announced in the first place, and I welcome the fact the Government has changed its position on that.”

However, Labour colleague Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn insisted there was no U-turn, just a misunderstanding, as existing recipients of disability payments were not being targeted.

This was dismissed as incredible by Fianna Fáil frontbencher Dara Calleary, who said: “This is a major U-turn; this is a huge U-turn.”

Mr Quinn said on TV3 news it was a question of “reducing that amount of money for future clients, not for existing clients, and somewhere in that communication different people heard different things”.

This had resulted in the protest by disability campaigners outside Government Buildings. Asked if he was saying there was no U-turn, just a failure in communications, Mr Quinn replied: “That’s as I understand it.”

Asked when she heard about the planned cuts, Ms Shortall said: “I got a call from the HSE about an hour before the press briefing on Thursday. Yes, there was poor communication, but that is absolutely a secondary matter.

“The most important thing is that we deliver health services to people who need them and that we do that in the most effective way from a healthcare point of view and in the most cost-effective way. And cutting frontline services is not the way to do that.”

Asked whether the planned cuts to home-help services should now also be reversed, she said: “We need to switch the focus away from the most expensive form of healthcare in the acute hospitals and we need to concentrate services at a community and primary care level.”

Campaigners who stayed outside Government Buildings throughout Tuesday night in protest at the cuts said yesterday they were pleased with the written guarantee from the Government that personal assistant hours would not be cut.

Leigh Gath, a survivor of the effects of thalidomide and a member of the Leaders Alliance campaign group for people with disabilities, said campaigners would be “more than prepared” to take to the streets again if cuts were revisited. “People are happier now. They’re not scared to death that they’ll be in an institution next week.”

Ms Gath and other campaigners received written confirmation of the decision by Government to reverse more than €10 million in cuts affecting the disabled after midday yesterday. “They told us they were bringing the written confirmation out to us last night and they knew where we were and they did not bring it. We were here all night in the cold waiting for that letter,” said Ms Gath.

Director of the campaign group Older & Bolder Patricia Conboy said: “We continue to call for a reversal of the cuts to home help hours and home care packages.”

Labour TD for Dublin Mid-West Joanna Tuffy said Mr Reilly needed “to prioritise measures that would generate more significant savings for the health service than if personal assistant hours had been cut. This includes the substitution of generic drugs for the more expensive drugs currently funded by the HSE.”