HSE cuts 'regrettable' - Gilmore


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said he does not yet know the reasons behind the cuts imposed in health services announced by the HSE yesterday, while Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has called the move "regrettable".

Cuts affecting the elderly and the disabled feature strongly in a €130 million cost-reduction package announced by the executive yesterday. The cuts to home help services in particular have provoked a furious reaction from groups working with older people and the disabled and disagreement between the Government parties.

Speaking in Dublin this morning, Mr Quinn said Minister for Health James Reilly would brief the Cabinet on Tuesday “as to the raison d’être that’s behind it”.

He added: “We will await to hear what he has to say."

Cuts had to be made “because we have lost our economic sovereignty, we are no longer in control of our cheque book”, he said.

“We don’t want to do theses things. We inherited a situation where we simply had no choice but to reduce expenditure and in those circumstances there is nothing sacrosanct unfortunately,” he said.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore today said it was “regrettable’’ that the Health Service Executive had announced cuts in services.

“Every organisation, every department and every service has to obviously work within budget,’’ he added. “My priority, and the priority of the Government, will be to ensure that services needed by people who need care and assistance continue to be provided.’’

Elsewhere, the HSE said that proposed cuts to home-help and homecare services will be considered on an individual basis, a move welcomed by Mr Gilmore.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland earlier today, Laverne McGuinness, national director of integrated services with the HSE. said that while the cuts were necessary, the first aim of the health service "was always to protect front-line services."

Ms McGuinness said that while €26 million would be cut from home-help and homecare services, there would still be 10.1 million home-help hours available for those looking after people at home.

She also said that home-help cuts were being constantly reviewed and would be considered on an individual basis.

However, groups working with older people and the disabled continued to voice their opposition to the cuts announced yesterday.

The Carers Association said the cuts would likely discourage people from offering to care for family members being discharged from hospital.

"It's going to put pressure on members of the family who are looking after somebody who is ill at home. It will also lead to earlier admissions to nursing homes as people at home with reduced support will not be able to cope. It is going to lead to longer stays in acute hospitals for people whose families simply aren't able to take them out earlier...and it's going to lead to an explosion in queues in emergency departments," said John Dunne, acting chief executive of the Carers Association.

Mr Dunne said that the cuts would completely undermine the Government's strategy in relation to healthcare.

"The Government has a coherent strategy in theory which is to encourage people out of expensive acute hospitals by providing greater community and home support services (but) if you start cutting those services then you're completely undermining the rationale of shifting personnel out of hospitals."

Dr John Ball, a spokesman for the Irish College of General Practicioners (ICGP), also criticised the Government's decision to cut home-help and homecare services.

"It really is staggering because it is in everyone's interest that patients stay at home. It obviously preserves the dignity of the patients themselves (and) the family carers involved. It also seems economically not to make sense because if patients don't get this back-up care, the risks of falls increases and they end up in A&E."

The chief executive of Alone, Seán Moynihan, called for an immediate reversal of the proposals.

“These cuts affect the basic needs of the one in ten older people who are in dire need of support which includes daily activities such as washing and cleaning. This is totally unacceptable," he said. "Home care services are low-cost yet high value. The cost of home care provision is significantly less than that of nursing home care provision, or long term hospital stay and to propose cuts in this area is shortsighted in the extreme."

The strength of the reaction appeared to take Government by surprise and caused dismay among Labour politicians.

Labour Party chairman and Galway East TD Colm Keaveney said last night he was “very uncomfortable” with the cuts affecting older people and the disabled. While accepting the need to deal with the HSE’s €260 million deficit, cutbacks should be targeted on “trophy areas that appear to be protected” instead of vulnerable groups.

“In the context of political stability, this can’t happen again. If I were minister instead of James Reilly, I’d be tackling consultant salaries and drug costs instead of the areas of greatest dependency.”

Another senior Labour source warned that the Government risked a re-run of the 2008 revolt by older people over changes to medical card eligibility. He claimed the cutbacks wouldn’t have been necessary if Dr Reilly had achieved savings in drug costs and secured a deal to charge more for the use of public hospital beds by private patients.

Siptu said its members working as home helps “will not stand idly by and allow this attack on the sick and vulnerable to proceed”.