Minister defends 'modest' €360m extra funding for health


Members of the Oireachtas Health Committee have approved €360 million in extra funding for the health service this year.

Minister for Health James Reilly said the supplementary budget for his department was a “modest” 1.8 per cent of overall spending, which was happening to a backdrop of €2.5 billion taken out of the health budget in recent years and the departure of 6,000 staff.

He launched an angry attack on Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher, who had told the committee that health finances were in “rag order”.

Dr Reilly contrasted the supplementary estimate he was seeking with the total of €668 million obtained by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin when he was minister for health. He pointed out that this was a time when the country was “awash with money”.

Pharma deal

He also defended the recent agreement between his department and the pharmaceutical industry as a “very good deal for the taxpayer”.

The Government faced a difficult situation in ensuring that it continued to support the industry in relation to research and new drugs while making it very clear that the taxpayer needed much better value on existing medicines and those going off patent, he said.

The supplementary health budget would be offset by a once-off €45 million contribution from the Medical Defence Union and €70 million in savings in the department, Dr Reilly told the committee. The net overspend would be €45 million.

He told Sinn Féin spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin that home-help hours would be restored to the levels that applied at the start of this year. Some €320 million would be spent on providing home-help hours to 50,000 people and home-care packages to 15,700 clients.

Cuts to home-help hours that were announced in September and then partially reversed had ended up saving only €3 million rather than the projected €8 million, the Minister said.

“I’m more interested in people who need service having that service than in saving money.”

Meanwhile, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is to seek supplementary funding for an EU co-financed programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and in the Border region.

He told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that Ireland contributed 36 per cent of the overall cost of the programme, known as Peace III, which runs to €333 million over 7 years.

He said his department had received an initial allocation of almost €48 million for the fund for 2012. “Notwithstanding the difficult economic climate, drawdown requests amounting to some €16 million have been received in 2012 which must be met.”

Mr Hogan said the supplementary estimate would add €8 million to the gross spending estimate for his department and would be balanced by an additional €8 million in EU receipts.