Minister denies U-turn over cutbacks


THE MINISTER for Health James Reilly has said he regrets that people with disabilities felt they had to protest overnight outside Government buildings earlier this week after €130 million in cuts to health services were announced.

The HSE had said €10 million of this would be saved “through the reduction of personal assistant hours” provided for those with disabilities.

On Tuesday night last, following a protest by people with disabilities over the cuts and several days of tension between the Coalition parties over the measures, Dr Reilly issued a statement saying he had informed the Cabinet he had “instructed the HSE to continue to provide services to people in receipt of personal assistant services in accordance with their needs”.

Campaign groups welcomed the U-turn and yesterday the Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Dr Reilly had acted courageously in reversing cutbacks for the disabled. “The Minister had the courage to do that and to do it quickly,” Mr Kenny said.

But speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night Dr Reilly denied there had been a U-turn.

“I certainly deplore the fact that people had to stay up all night in the cold because of the fear that they felt that their services were going to be withdrawn. When these cuts were first made available to me . . . I made it very clear that any interference, any reduction in service, particularly in the areas of of personal assistants and home help had to be the absolute last resort,” he said.

“I came out, I know, on Friday and I made it very clear that service was not going to be lost to people,” he added.

When it was put to him that the Taoiseach had praised him for reversing his decision, Dr Reilly replied: “I’m not bothered as to whether this is described as a U-turn or not as long as people have the services that they need, and that’s my prime objective here”.

Dr Reilly also said it would be “extremely difficult” to cut €700 million from next year’s health budget without impacting on patients.

Meanwhile, confusion continues over the detail and exact extent of health service cuts in different regions.

Regional briefings had been expected to take place today on the detailed cuts to be implemented on foot of the €130 million cost-saving package.

However, these are not expected now to happen until next week.

Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, insisted an investment in mental health, to which €35 million had been allocated, would be rolled out by the end of this year.

The Irish Times reported yesterday, based on information provided by the Department of Health, that this money along with a €20 million investment in primary care staff is to be used instead to offset the HSE’s deficit.

However, Ms Lynch said that of the 414 posts allocated, 353 were “at various stages in the recruitment process” and most were expected to start in December. The Government remained committed to engaging these staff “as soon as is feasible”.

Older Bolder said uncertainty and lack of clarity continued to be the order of the day in relation to cutbacks in homecare services. Director Patricia Conboy said a statement issued on behalf of Dr Reilly had created more confusion about the status of home help services and homecare packages.

“What is going on? Is the HSE cutting homecare services as announced a week ago or is it not?”

Dr Reilly denied that the Government intended on taking from the €50 million fund set aside for mental health and primary care