Taoiseach defends health strategy


Taoiseach Enda Kenny today defended the Government's health strategy as he announced a major debate on the financial crisis will take place in the Dáil.

During heated exchanges on leaders’ questions, Mr Kenny insisted the Government was engaged in a “generational reform” of the health system.

He was responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who demanded a “full presentation” to the House by Minister for Health James Reilly on the financial crisis in the health service and the budget overrun.

The Taoiseach said an “open debate” would take place in two weeks’ time and the health budget could be part of that discussion.

Confirming the debate, Mr Kenny accused Mr Martin of “bleating” and his party colleague Seán Fleming, who walked out yesterday from the Public Accounts Committee meeting, of “histrionics”.

Mr Martin accused Dr Reilly of introducing a budget last year that was “built on sand, that was dishonest and that was flawed and has allowed the situation to get into the extreme it is now in with a deficit of €374 million at the end of September”.

When Mr Kenny and Government colleagues hit out at Mr Martin’s performance as minister for health, he said that was eight years ago, adding: “I don’t care what you say about the past at this stage.”

The Taoiseach said: “The week after next the House will discuss the economic situation the country faces. Part of that discussion is to allow for contributions from anybody and everybody.”

Mr Martin criticised HSE officials for failing to tell the Public Accounts Committee that Tallaght hospital had to apply for a €12 million overdraft with a letter of comfort from the HSE.

“The CEO designate could not confirm whether the HSE had been consulted or involved in the selection of the added primary care centres,” he said. “We deduce from his reply the officials had nothing to do with adding the care centres. They were selected by Minister for Health James Reilly.”

Across the country acute hospitals were in a dire financial straits, and this was having an impact on patients and staff, Mr Martin said. “Promises made on health savings have not been achieved,” the Fianna Fáil leader added. “What is the Government hiding? What is the HSE hiding, and why is the department hiding very basic facts that people are seeking?”

The Taoiseach said the Tallaght hospital financial director had set out very clearly what it had done. It had had an extraordinary budget overrun but had managed to treat more people more effectively, and when its budget was cut it had still made savings, the Taoiseach said.

Mr Kenny said the financial director had also clarified that “nobody need be in any worries about having the provision of the best level of hospital attention given to them”.

The hospital was approved for overdraft in accordance with the regulations and it achieved significant savings in 2012 despite a 5 per cent increase in patient numbers and a 9 per cent cut in funding.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called for a supplementary health budget and criticised Government strategy. “Your policy is all about privatisation,” he claimed.

In a statement today, Fianna Fáil's 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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