More than €1bn in cuts expected in healthcare


THE DEPARTMENT of Health will be making cuts of more than €1 billion in the forthcoming budget, Minister for Health Mary Harney has indicated.

Speaking at the Resus International Resuscitation Conference in Bunratty, Co Clare, yesterday, Ms Harney admitted to Government failings in managing the economy, including in the benchmarked pay increases to public servants.

Addressing more than 350 delegates, the Minister said €800 million in cuts would be needed, and that didn’t take into account additional expenditure of €300- €400 million required annually in response to demographic pressures – such as increased medical cards and increased numbers of elderly patients.

“Even standing still, you need to find €300 million to €400 million extra every year just to do the same you did the previous year,” she said.

She added that as a result the Government was looking at implementing cuts “of over €1 billion” in health for 2010.

“It is not going to be easy to find that kind of money, I want to be honest with you – it ain’t going to be easy.”

Appealing to health workers, Ms Harney said: “I’m optimistic that health workers in every region in the country will respond to the national challenge of wanting to see very flexible work practices and change at every level.

“I believe that those who work in health do so for the reason to look after the needs of patients. That is their primary reason for pursuing a career in health.”

She confirmed the department was looking at many recommendations of the McCarthy report on cutting costs, with hospitals saving money by increasing day case activity and shorter patient stays.

The Minister said expenditure on health this year would account for 27 per cent of the Government’s total spend and more than half of the funding the Government raises from various tax streams which include income tax, excise taxes, VAT, corporation and capital gains tax.

“If the Government has to raise €4 billion by way of public sector expenditure cuts, clearly that is going to impact on a department like the Department of Health, which spends such a large percentage of public money,” she added.

On the economic difficulties facing the country, the Minister said “we have a mountain to climb . . . [but] we have climbed the mountain before”.

She admitted to failings by the Government in managing the economy.

“Instead of benchmarking the public sector versus the private sector in the late 1990s, we should have all benchmarked ourselves against other countries in the EU. If we had, things would have been very different.”

There was also a failure to regulate the financial services sector appropriately, she said.

“It wasn’t a failure of legislation. It wasn’t a failure of institutional arrangements.

“But unfortunately, it was a culture of not implementing the regulation we have and we are paying a very heavy price for that now and our reputation overseas has been damaged somewhat as a result of that.”