Reilly and colleagues reject calls he step down
Minister insists enormous challenges face health system and ‘there is no fat left’
Dr James Reilly, Minister for Health and Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs speaking to reporters after the launch of the SafeFood campaign on childhood obesity yesterday.
Cabinet colleagues yesterday rallied behind Minister for Health James Reilly over his handling of his department’s budget in the face of repeated Opposition calls for his resignation.
Dr Reilly said yesterday he had no intention of resigning and argued it was a “bit rich” of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to demand his resignation given that it was he who had founded the HSE when in government.
A number of Cabinet colleagues, including Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and Minister of State for Health Alex White, also strongly defended Dr Reilly against Opposition criticism, saying they had full confidence in his management of his department.
The Fine Gael Minister had come under increasing pressure over the weekend when it emerged that the cuts of €660 million announced for health in 2014 on budget day may actually be increased to €1 billion if promised services such as the upgrading of maternity services and the introduction of reduced hours for doctors are to be implemented.
There is also continuing uncertainty over his department’s deficit for 2013, which may amount to €150 million and require a supplementary budget.
Asked yesterday if he was in control of the Department of Health’s budget, Dr Reilly said he was.
It was a rejection of the proposition made by the Opposition that the decisions on budgets in health were now being controlled by the Departments of Public Expenditure, and of An Taoiseach.
Dr Reilly said the figures were being assessed by the other two departments so that all would have clarity. “It’s [a joint assessment] that I sought and I’m very thankful that I got agreement on, and I think it’s one that will help us fully understand the challenges that the health service faces.”
He said the department faced an enormous challenge. “There is no fat left in the system. We are down to the bone and I would like everybody to understand as we go towards validating this the implications it may have for the service plan.”
Mr White also stressed that the figures were challenging and suggested that a little time was need. “We need a period of two to three weeks for the HSE to go through the figures and come up with a service plan for next year.”
Misleading the Dáil
Mr Martin repeated his view that Dr Reilly should go. He accused the Government of misleading the Dáil over the true picture in the Department of Health. “This is the first budget where agencies in charge of delivering budgets are now looking for post-budget verification of the figures they presented to the Dáil. I think it’s unprecedented.”
He said the department could not sustain such cutbacks without “imposing wholesale misery”.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald also repeated her call for the Minister’s resignation, saying her party had no confidence in him. “People are hugely fearful of cuts to medical cards, to older people, to disability services.”
Former minister of state for health Róisín Shortall, who resigned following a public falling out with Dr Reilly, said the failure to meet targets was a repeat of last year.
“You cannot go on simply making up the figures. It’s not a sustainable approach. We were promised very significant reform in the health area and we are not getting that.”