Taoiseach in vigorous defence of Reilly's record


TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny has given unequivocal backing to the performance of Minister for Health James Reilly and firmly placed the blame for health budget overruns at the door of the HSE.

Mr Kenny yesterday responded to a report in The Irish Times that disclosed that HSE chief executive Cathal Magee had repeatedly written to Dr Reilly this year requesting policy directions on which services could be targeted to reduce the health deficit, which now stands at €270 million. Dr Reilly did not meet the requests.

Speaking in Westport yesterday, the Taoiseach contended that Mr Magee had full authority to implement service cuts and did not need to seek any direction or sanction from Dr Reilly.

Firmly placing the responsibility of HSE overruns on the shoulders of Mr Magee, he said: “The accounting officer of the HSE has full authority to keep service runs in check without any policy direction from the Minister,” he said.

He also claimed that Dr Reilly was tackling three other areas where savings needed to be made. They include recouping more money from health insurance companies for use of public facilities and getting a better deal for bulk purchase of drugs. Mr Kenny said a further €125 million would be forthcoming from insurance companies and that negotiations with drugs companies had yielded €10 million in savings so far.

On the third area, staff shortfalls, Mr Kenny said there had been a greater than anticipated exodus of staff from the HSE in February (the last date for early retirement for those who wished to retain higher pensions). He said a solution to deal with the shortfall was “being worked on”.

A supplementary budget for health was also firmly ruled out by the Taoiseach, who said it was not going to happen.

Dr Reilly has been at the centre of a series of controversies in recent weeks, including his personal finances and his relationship with Mr Magee, who announced last month his intention to resign as chief executive of the HSE, following differences with the Minister over policy direction.

The Taoiseach defended the Fine Gael deputy leader’s general performance as Minister and said Dr Reilly had entered politics for the right reasons. He said Dr Reilly’s reforms would put governance in place in the HSE that would allow for absolute accountability on how taxpayers’ money was being spent.

“I don’t want to see a situation continue as has applied for the past 15 years, where every year towards the end of the year we have the same old story – serious overruns and a supplementary budget. There will be no supplementary budget and the Minister, far from being distracted from his duty, is making serious changes to the structure so that we can have at the end of the period the introduction of universal health insurance which will deliver accountability,” Mr Kenny said.