'New cost solutions' needed for HSE

Fri, Jun 15, 2012, 01:00

MEASURES TO reduce a €169 million overspend in the health system will need to include “new solutions to deal with labour unit costs”, the chief executive of the Health Service Executive told an Oireachtas committee yesterday.

Cathal Magee told the Joint Oireachtas on Health and Children that if health services are to be protected, new solutions will have to be found “that are not on the table yet”.

The Croke Park agreement, which protected public service pay in exchange for changes in work practices, had delivered “a huge amount” to the health services, he said. In its next phase, choices would have to be made, including “new solutions to deal with labour unit costs”.

Mr Magee also said the HSE had told unions it would consider outsourcing services such as cleaning and catering in hospitals if costs were higher than those in the private sector.

Minister for Health James Reilly told the committee the HSE was reporting a deficit of €169 million at the end of May. Based on the current rate of cash drawdown, the deficit could reach €500 million by the end of the year. Measures to address the deficit would include implementing reforms under the Croke Park agreement, he said.

Questioned by Billy Kelleher TD (FF) about anecdotal reports of a “huge loss” in home help services, including individuals who had their hourly service reduced to 45 minutes, the Minister said the statistic was “irrelevant”.

He said the number of people getting home help services had dropped this year, but only by 1,000, down from 51,000 last year. And there had been no reduction in home care packages, which include provision for more complex care needs.

He dismissed suggestions by Denis Naughton TD (Ind) that the numbers of people on trolleys in emergency departments were being manipulated and that patients in Sligo General Hospital were being “moved around” to avoid inclusion in a trolley count.