Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The HSE has said it plans to make €619m in cuts next year, down from an original projection of €666m.

Just €23m of the projected savings will derive from medical card 'probity review', far shy of the original figure of €133m floated at Budget time.

The figures were revealed this morning as the HSE announced its long-delayed 2014 service plan, which details the exact level of cuts to be imposed in the next 12 months.

The document is usually published within 21 days of the wider government budget, on which it is based.

However, due to serious concerns over the sheer scale of cuts heaped upon the already overstretched service, the 2014 report's release instead suffered two unprecedented 10-day delays, the latter of which ended at midnight on Monday.

The repeated pushing back of its publication date was caused by a tense stand-off between Health Minister James Reilly and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin over the level of proposed cuts.

However speaking in the Dáil this morning, Minister Reilly said he knew from Budget day that he could never deliver up to €133m in savings from medical cards.

"I reiterate my underlying principle, which is that I do not wish to see services cut," Minister Reilly said.

"I wish - and need - to see the cost of those services cut, and that is what this Government is about."

Meanwhile Minister Howlin has said he will fund a once-off, targeted redundancy scheme aimed at administrators in the HSE.

Brendan Howlin says the issue was discussed by the Cabinet yesterday and he will use money from the sale of State assets to pay for the scheme.

"I'm anxious where there is clearly too many administrators - if that is the case, if the HSE have identified and targeted people who are not required in the delivery of services and they propose to me a targeted voluntary redundancy scheme, I will fund it," he said.

The HSE says around 75,000 people will lose medical cards next year.

It says a review of all medical cards currently in issue will result in around 25,000 people losing the cards they already hold.

Another 30,000 will be taken from older people who are now over the income limits for a full medical card.

However the HSE has slashed the amount it expects to save from reviewing medical cards.

Director General Tony O'Brien says the original target set down by government simply could not be achieved.

"In order to completely remove any doubt about the €113m figure, by agreement we're re-allocating from our budget for pension lump sums €63m, and our original target of €20m is increasing by €3m to €23m," he said.

"So instead of €133m, we now have €23m," he added.

Reacting to the details of the service plan, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) says the proposals amount to an austerity charter for the health sector, and that the budget for the coming year is simply not adequate to provide the level of care necessary.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) meanwhile said it is deeply concerned about the impact on essential frontline services.

INMO General Secretary Liam Doran said neither his members, or patients, can tolerate more cuts.

"We have got from a place of a very comprehensive service down to one which is deeply uneven, deeply flawed," Mr Doran said.

"The IMNO gets contact every day from member saying they haven't enough staff, they can't meet patient need, they can't deliver the type of quality assured outcomes they want to.

"And now you have a health service plan which is saying you've got to do even more with even less."

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