Reilly decisions spark call for inquiry
The Opposition is to seek an investigation into revelations that Minister for Health James Reilly told the Health Service Executive to accelerate new developments in two hospitals in the constituencies of members of the Cabinet.
Fianna Fáil accused Ministers of using the HSE’s capital programme as a slush fund for electoral advantage.
It followed revelations yesterday that Dr Reilly told the HSE to fast-track developments in Wexford and Kilkenny as part of its capital programme.
In June 2011, The Irish Times reported that Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin had announced €20 million capital funding for a new emergency department at Wexford General Hospital. About the same time Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan announced €13 million for improvements to the emergency department and some other areas at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny.
The announcements were made at a time the Department of Health said the HSE’s capital plan was at draft stage.
Freedom of information
RTÉ’s This Week programme yesterday revealed details of background correspondence it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents showed that senior HSE management were unaware of the changed timelines for the projects and maintained that additional funding would be needed.
RTÉ maintained emails between the HSE and the Department of Health showed an additional €12 million was approved for Wexford General Hospital by Mr Howlin’s department, while improvements in Kilkenny were to be financed by “efficiencies” in other equipment budgets.
It said that at a subsequent meeting of the HSE board on July 14th, 2011, the organisation’s then chief executive Cathal Magee received a letter from the department’s then secretary general Michael Scanlan confirming that the Minister for Health requested the Wexford and Kilkenny projects be “accelerated in the HSE’s capital programme”.
Sanctioning of expenditure
The letter also said the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had sanctioned this expenditure.
A spokeswoman for Mr Howlin said the extension to Wexford General Hospital was included in the National Development Plan 2007-2013 and had received planning permission prior to the last election.
She said the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had sanctioned the 2011 Health Capital Plan, submitted to it by the Department of Health, “en bloc”.
“The local announcement of the commencement of the project was attended by HSE regional officials. The details for the announcement were supplied by the HSE.”
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher called on Dr Reilly to clarify the “disturbing” revelations. He said they again raised the question of political interference in health.
Sinn Féin health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked: “Is it now the case that the fate of hospitals will be determined by the presence or absence of Cabinet Ministers in the constituencies where hospitals happen to be located?”