Scale of health cuts intensifies pressure on Reilly

Fianna Fáil leader claims figures produced in the budget had been shown to be dishonest

Dr Reilly is not in control of his department, according to Micheál Martin, speaking at the Fianna Fáil Wolfe Tone Commemoration ceremony at Bodenstown Cemetery, Co Kildare. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Dr Reilly is not in control of his department, according to Micheál Martin, speaking at the Fianna Fáil Wolfe Tone Commemoration ceremony at Bodenstown Cemetery, Co Kildare. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Mon, Oct 21, 2013, 13:28

Pressure on Minister for Health James Reilly intensified over the weekend with continuing controversy over the scale of the savings earmarked in the health budget for next year.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the figures produced in the budget had been shown to be dishonest, the Dáil had been misled and the Minister should be removed from office.

He said Dr Reilly was no longer in control of the Department of Health, as officials from the Taoiseach’s office and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform were now going to be involved in supervising the health spend for next year.

However, Department of Health sources strongly rejected Mr Martin’s claims, saying there was no confusion about the scale of the cuts for next year.

Department of Health sources said €660 million in cuts were required to retain the current level of services. However, they acknowledged that more than that could be required to provide for unforeseen circumstances, such as a flu epidemic.

On Saturday The Irish Times reported that senior health service sources believed that the level of cuts could reach €1 billion if promised but unfunded developments such as the upgrading of maternity services and the introduction of reduced hours for doctors were to be implemented.

Separately, new figures to be published later this week will show that health services recorded a financial overrun of €71.987 million to the end of August. Dr Reilly has signalled that the overall deficit for the year could be about €150 million and that a supplementary budget would be required.

Meanwhile, a Labour Minister has admitted that a key policy promise in the Programme for Government, the introduction of free GP care for all by 2016, was unlikely to be achieved.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch said she didn’t believe free GP care would be made available beyond under-fives in the lifetime of the Government, but that if the Government were re-elected, it would be implemented in a second term.

She was immediately contradicted by the other Labour Minister of State at the department, Alex White, who has responsibility for primary care. He said the commitment was to implement free GP care for all “during this Government’s term of office”.

Department of Health sources insisted the reason why Dr Reilly had actively sought the involvement of officials from the two other departments was to ensure that there would be “a shared understanding across the Cabinet” about the difficult choices that would have to be made.

Speaking at the annual Fianna Fáil Wolf Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare, earlier yesterday, Mr Martin said Dr Reilly clearly was not in control of his department, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin was now effectively the Minister for Health.

“The Government came into the Dáil last week and did not tell us the honest figures. They were clearly dishonest.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter sprang to Dr Reilly’s defence and accused the Fianna Fáil leader of gross cynicism. “It is astonishing that . . . Micheál Martin, as the main architect of the HSE, has the chutzpah to criticise Minister Reilly,” he said.

He said Mr Martin’s speech showed that “old Fianna Fáil” was still part of the political landscape.