Shortall says Reilly's failure to tackle big issues will lead to 'appalling cuts'

Mon, Oct 1, 2012, 01:00

RESIGNATION FURORE:FORMER minister of state Róisín Shortall has claimed her attempts to reform the health service were blocked by Minister for Health James Reilly and said his failure to tackle “big ticket issues” including consultants’ pay and drug costs would lead to “the most appalling cuts” in the upcoming budget.

Ms Shortall questioned Dr Reilly’s commitment to the programme for government and denied that there was a personality clash with her senior colleague.

In an interview on RTÉ Radio on Saturday, Ms Shortall said there had been a “drift” in commitments made for the health service and that Dr Reilly was going in a “whole different direction”, toward the American, business-based style of healthcare. She said her attempts at reform were “running into the sand”.

“There are choices there,” she said. “You can tackle the unacceptable drugs bill – we’re paying far too much for drugs – or you can cut home help services. You can tackle consultants’ pay and put a cap on pay, or you can impose charges on people with medical cards. There are all kinds of choices.”

She said Dr Reilly had “signed up to a health budget which could have been balanced this year if he had followed through on the commitments he had given to tackle those big ticket items within health.

“You have insurance costs, drug costs, consultants’ pay. And the budget is predicated on him doing that but he hasn’t and now we are coming to the end of the year and we are going to be facing the most appalling cuts because of his failure to tackle those issues.”

She said Dr Reilly was “very much about the insurance companies running the health service and privatising large parts of the health service”.

Ms Shortall said she felt let down by the Labour Party over the issue, and that she resigned the party whip due to lack of backing. “If the Labour Party isn’t about allocation of resources according to need . . . what is it about?”

Ms Shortall claimed there had been a “certain closing of ranks” and “ attempts to smear” in sections of the media.

She said she had spoken to Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore by phone about her resignation – rather than just emailing him – and that he had asked her to reconsider her decision.

Ms Shortall said she had considered resigning in July but there had been a question mark over Dr Reilly’s future as Minister at that time.

She had also considered resigning when former HSE chief Cathal Magee departed, claiming he was “driven out of his job”.

Asked why she had voted confidence in the Minister for Health, she replied that if she had voted no confidence in him, it would have been a “one-day wonder”. She argued she had a responsibility to set out her beliefs over the lack of reform and future direction of the health service.

Ms Shortall said the description of the health service as being “like Angola” was a “cop-out”.

Referring to the addition to a list of two primary care centres from Dr Reilly’s constituency, she said she agreed with the description of that being “stroke politics”.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly described Ms Shortall’s claims as “inaccurate”.

He said it was the former Labour junior minister who had questioned the programme for government, highlighting her recent comments on health insurance, which he said proved she was out of step with the Government programme.

“In her final words in her recent Dáil statement, Ms Shortall asked whether we should have a social insurance model or a commercial insurance model in establishing universal health insurance,” Dr Reilly’s spokesman said.

“It has already been agreed by both parties that universal health insurance with competing insurance companies provides the best method for developing a single tier health service with a dynamic for reducing costs and increasing efficiency.”