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Crisis In Hospitals Worsens As Consultant Warns They Will Run Out Of Money By October
By J. P. Anderson
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are to table a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health following the announcement of €130m cuts in the health service.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson Billy Kelleher said James Reilly had demonstrated a complete inability to lead a reform of the health system.
Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the minister is plunging the health services into deep crisis with the savage cuts being imposed.
Meanwhile, Oireachtas Health Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer defended the Government decision on the cuts and said every case would be assessed sensitively.
Mr Buttimer called for a calm and rational debate and denied that Mr Reilly had failed to consult with his Cabinet colleagues.
He said Mr Reilly had been involved in a process with other minister, which “has been going on for the past five weeks".
The Fine Gael TD said the Government must work to ensure that those in need continue to receive the services they require.
He said: "The Minister, the HSE, who are the operational people in charge of this, have been told by the Troika to make savings by the end of the year. This is what we've been asked to do. This is an evolving process."
Meanwhile, Minister of State Jan O'Sullivan said she has confidence that the Coalition parties can work together to address the issues in relation to cuts in the health service.
In relation to the Minister for Health, the Labour TD said that there were "no knives".
She said Mr Reilly is very experienced and very committed with regard to reforming the health service and there are very difficult decisions to be made.
Ms O'Sullivan also said that she does not think that the country wants an election.
She said that as two parties in Government with a very strong mandate, Fine Gael and Labour can work out the issues that need to be worked out.
Separately Labour Councillor Paul O'Shea, who resigned from Ennis Town Council over the weekend, said there would be further resignations from the party if the health cuts go ahead.
Speaking on RTE’s Today with Pat Kenny Mr O’Shea described the cuts as "appalling, absurd and unacceptable", saying they were an "attack on people's dignity".
He said he would only reconsider his position if the cuts are reversed and said he has organised a public meeting on the issue for next week.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael's Ray Butler has said Mr Reilly should look at cutting the pay of hospital consultants.
The Meath West TD said he and his Dáil colleagues require far more detail on the cuts Dr Reilly is proposing.
He said those concerns would be expressed to the minister when the Fine Gael parliamentary party meets in Co Mayo next week.
Labour TD for Clare Michael McNamara has requested a meeting with both the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health to discuss the cuts.
He said while savings had to be made, it is possible to avoid hitting frontline services.
The major cuts proposed are in agency and overtime, home help hours, home care packages, the provision of personal assistants, medical equipment and drugs.
Agency staff will be cut by 50%, overtime by 10%, home help hours by 5.5% and 200 home care packages will be cut each month resulting in 800 home care packages being cut this year.
Some 50,000 medical card patients will no longer get drugs or products for nutrition, weight loss and helping to manage cholesterol.
The Health Service Executive said it is inevitable that there will be some impact on service delivery but will seek to minimise the direct impact on patients.
Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said yesterday that the manner in which the cuts were announced by Mr Reilly was unacceptable and there had been a lot of communication problems in the department.
He called for the cuts to be reversed, saying there were other areas in the health budget that could be tackled.
A consultant at the Mater Hospital in Dublin has suggested that hospitals in the city and other parts of the country could run out of money by October.
It comes as efforts are being made to resolve a split between the Government parties over proposed cuts to the health budget, with suggestions by some TDs that the rift could spark an early election.
The Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin met with the Health Minister James Reilly over the weekend in an effort to clear up the row, which centres on €130m worth of cuts announced earlier this week.
Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, Micheal O'Keeffe, has said it is not clear where these cuts can be made.
He also said there are strong rumours that hospitals in the capital may be out of cash before the year is out.
Mr O'Keeffe said: "We don't know where these cutbacks are going to happen, where they are going to come, what the deficit is and what it means.
"There is a rumour, and I think it is more than a rumour, that a lot of hospitals in Dublin and elsewhere will run out of money by October and there is even a rumour that at that stage they will not even be able to pay the wages of the staff.” This has a lot to run yet and if that is true, the crisis will be many times what it is now."
The head of the Health Service Executive has acknowledged that the cuts announced this week by the organisation will lead to bed and theatre closures.
Speaking on RTE‘s This Week programme, HSE Director General designate Tony O'Brien said the Government had ordered cuts of €130m be implemented to provide assurances to the Troika.
Mr O’Brien said those cuts remain its focus but he raised the possibility that they could be replaced by other cuts if they were guaranteed to save €130m.
If the reduction in spending was not introduced the HSE would be heading to a deficit of €500m, which would mean it would run out of money before the end of the year.
Mr O'Brien said that this was simply not an option.
Asked if the reductions in overtime and the use of agency staff would lead to bed and theatre closures, Mr O'Brien replied "absolutely".
He said the cuts do represent "significant challenges" and could not be done without some impact on the availability of beds.
Every measure would be subject to a risk assessment and every measure would have to pass that test, Mr O'Brien said.
Announcement of health cuts 'unacceptable'
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the manner of the health cuts announced by Minister for Health James Reilly was not acceptable.
The Labour Party, including senior ministers, was not informed about the plans.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said there have been a lot of communication problems in the minister's department and it was not the first time that this has happened.
He said the decision was handled badly and the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday would be the ideal opportunity for the issue to be discussed.
Mr Ó Ríordáin also called for the cuts to be reversed, saying there were other areas in the health budget that could be tackled.
Labour Party Chairman Colm Keaveney also said the proposed cuts are unacceptable to members of his party.
Mr Keaveney said he wants the Taoiseach to initiate a review of the measures when the Cabinet meets.
Speaking on This Week, he said that Mr O'Brien should commence a line-by-line scrutiny of the HSE budget to identify waste.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Keaveney's statement was extraordinary.
He asked where he had been for the last 12 months, amid warnings about the looming crisis in the health service finances.
Mr Martin also said his party is considering putting forward a motion in the forthcoming Dáil session in relation to Minister Reilly's stewardship of his department.
He said the whole situation around Minister Reilly was destabilising the Government and causing considerable division within the Government.
Mr Martin said the situation for Minister Reilly was untenable and others in his own party were saying as such.