FF says it will hire experts to get health budget under control

Party spokesman says if it is in power after next election better data will be needed

Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman,  was speaking at the party’s think-in in Gorey, Co Wexford, where there was renewed criticism by party leader Micheál Martin of health budgeting. File photograph: Alan Betson

Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, was speaking at the party’s think-in in Gorey, Co Wexford, where there was renewed criticism by party leader Micheál Martin of health budgeting. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Fianna Fáil says it will hire external consultants to help get health budgets under control and prevent overruns in the sector if it is in government after the next election.

Stephen Donnelly, the party’s health spokesman, said better data was needed on how money allocated to the health service was being spent.

He was speaking at the Fianna Fáil party think-in in Gorey, Co Wexford, where there was renewed criticism by party leader Micheál Martin of health budgeting over recent years.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed there will be an overspend again this year but has said it will not be as high as 2018, when an additional €700 million had to be allocated. This was mostly funded through higher-than-expected corporation tax receipts.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will meet Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath and its public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen on Tuesday to begin the process to draft the October 8th budget.

‘Full transparency’

Mr Martin said on Monday the “the first thing” Fianna Fáil, whose support was needed to pass budgets under the confidence and supply deal, would seek this year was “full transparency around what health requires”.

“Basically, the Government want certain services provided but are then not providing the requisite money to make sure those services are delivered. We see this in home helps, home-care packages, disability services, the absence of physiotherapists, speech and language and so on.

“What we want and what we would do in government is to make sure that the situation is fully transparent, that we identify the needs and prioritise the services, particularly around demographics.”

Forensic accountants

Mr Donnelly raised the prospect of the party, if it was in government, using forensic accountants and actuaries to examine accounts in the health sector in order to allow for more accurate budgeting.

“One of the many steps required to fix the damage done to our public healthcare system since Fine Gael came to power is to assert financial control, including honest forecasting, multi-annual budgeting and actionable financial data,” Mr Donnelly said.

“Fianna Fáil in government would appoint a team of forensic accountants and other financial experts to help gather the data and analysis needed for this work.”

Recent days have seen Fine Gael claim Fianna Fáil has called for €4.35 billion in spending during the first six months of the year without detailing how its numerous commitments will be paid for.

Peter Burke, a Longford Westmeath Fine Gael TD, claimed Fianna Fáil “are clearly intent on returning to power at all costs and are willing to make empty promises to voters to get there”.

Mr Martin said Fine Gael was engaging in “juvenile politics” and “silly stuff”.

Along with a health briefing by Mr Donnelly, the think-in had sessions on the economy and the budget, crime and drugs, and Brexit.

Mr Martin, who has already said there should be no tax cuts in the event of a no-deal Brexit, listed health, housing and tackling climate change as his priorities for the budget.

Willie O’Dea, the Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman, again called for a €5 increase in social welfare payments in the budget.