Mental health budget restored through extra funding

Cabinet approved an additional €500m in spending for the health service on Tuesday

 Minister for Health Simon Harris has reversed the much-criticised diversion of monies supposedly ringfenced for mental health in the last budget. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has reversed the much-criticised diversion of monies supposedly ringfenced for mental health in the last budget. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has reversed the much-criticised diversion of monies supposedly ringfenced for mental health in the last budget using additional funding provided for his department by the Government.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet approved an extra €500 million in funding for the health service, the bulk of which will be used to cover overspending by the HSE.

The HSE was €120 million over budget for the first three months of the year and its end of the year deficit is expected to reach almost €500 million.

However, Mr Harris said the extra money will also be used on priorities he has identified, including the restoration of the €35 million in ringfenced funding that was promised for mental health in the last budget.

More money will also be made available for disability services, an increase in home health hours and an expanded initiative to combat overcrowding in hospital emergency departments next winter.

Up to €12 million of the money originally allocated to mental health was to be diverted because relevant staff could not be recruited this year and so the money could not be spent, according to the Department of Health and the HSE.

In reversing this decision, Mr Harris promised “every cent” allocated for mental health in the last budget would now be spent in that area.

HSE plan

The current HSE service plan provides for the same number of home help hours to be provided this year as last, but the Minister said this wasn’t enough given rising demand.

“If we’re serious about keeping people out of hospitals and caring for them in the community, we have to provide an adequate number of home help hours.”

The extra funding, along with other increases in the budget, amount to a 6 per cent rise in the health budget, bringing total spending to €14.1 billion, he said.

“This is not a blank cheque for our health service,” he said. “It must be accountable and must live within its budget.”

He said that while health funding was now at a sustainable level, “the Government and the taxpayer expect those paid to manage within the health service to manage these resources”.

He said he would not accept a “replication” of the €120 million first-quarter deficit and warned that under new EU rules there cannot be a supplementary budget at the end of the year, as has happened in previous years.

Mr Harris said he planned to introduce new measures to ensure accountability and controlled spending in health and suggested a greater role for the Oireachtas Committee on Health in overseeing the running of hospitals.