Government would be ‘foolhardy’ to commit to avoiding health budget shortfall, Paschal Donohoe says

Health service has received ‘substantial increase’ in funding in recent years due to increased demand on hospitals, primary care spending, pension and legal costs

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has said it would be “foolhardy” of the Government to give a commitment that there would be no need for a further bailout in the health budget next year.

The level of funding provided to the health service was one of the main points of tension in the budget agreed this October. Bernard Gloster, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE), has publicly made the case that funding allocated to the health service would leave it facing a budget deficit next year.

Health received a record budget of €22.5 billion for the coming year, while this year it required an additional €1 billion in supplementary funding.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Donohoe said the additional funding required above its original budget this year was due to increased demand on hospitals, spending in primary care, pension costs and the number of legal claims against the State.

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Significant supplementary funding had been needed in the health budget in many of the last number of years, Mr Donohoe told politicians. “It would be foolhardy for me to give a commitment to you that no such supplementary [budget] would be required next year,” he said.

The Minister was speaking at a hearing of the Oireachtas budgetary oversight committee on Wednesday.

Recent years had seen a “really substantial increase” in the level of funding allocated to the Department of Health, he said.

The majority of increases in annual funding allocated to the health budget during the Covid-19 pandemic had been kept in subsequent budgets, he said.

Mr Donohoe said any commitment to make “additional billions of euro” available would weaken efforts to ensure money was being spent efficiently in the health service. It was crucial there was “better financial governance” of budgets in the sector, he said.

In response, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government was “fooling” itself when it came to the budget allocated to the health service.

The Opposition TD said it was clear that officials knew in advance the amount of initial funding allocated was “inadequate” to cover the cost of providing services.

Mr Boyd Barrett said health staff reported being “stretched to the limit” between a shortage of staff and resources. The situation in some hospitals amounted to “outright chaos”, he said.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times