Reilly defends health officials


Minister for Health James Reilly has defended his senior officials after they were accused of “stonewalling” at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

Dr Reilly said Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin and HSE director general designate Tony O’Brien were excellent civil servants of the highest calibre who had acted within the limitations of their remit before the committee.

He said the committee’s role was to examine how public money had been spent and it had no role in relation to policy.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming walked out of the committee yesterday after Dr McLoughlin responded to his questions about spending by saying he could not answer as they were policy matters. Mr Fleming branded Dr McLoughlin was a “disgrace” who was “unfit for office”.

Committee chairman John McGuinness accused the officials of stonewalling members.

However, Dr Reilly said there was “nothing remotely disgraceful” about public servants acting within the remit of their job descriptions. The two officials were duty bound to do this and were not allowed to stray into policy matters.

He said he was “quietly confident” that the measures put in place to deal with the deficit in health service spending would be successful. The deficit in the HSE now stands at €374 million, but Dr Reilly maintained this morning that it was not continuing to climb.

He predicted new working arrangements for consultants - which have yet to be agreed - would yield at least €200 million in savings and said he planned to discuss changes to the working week with health sector unions.

The Minister also expressed confidence that patient safety at Tallaght hospital would not be affected by the fact that the hospital has taken out an overdraft of €12 million.

In a statement today, Mr Fleming rejected the Taoiseach's remarks in the Dáil this morning about the committee hearing..

“At yesterday’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee we were expecting to receive information on the current financial position of the Health Service Executive in the opening statements from the Chairman and Chief Executive of the HSE.

“Having failed to provide any information on the HSE’s finances and indicated that they would not discuss the current financial position I rightly criticised both officials," Mr Fleming said.

“The Taoiseach this morning branded this criticism as a ‘disgrace’. It is duty of accounting officers to provide information to the Public Accounts Committee and the duty of committee members to seek and question this information," the TD said.

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