No plans to reopen health service budget allocations, says Donohoe

Budget allocation will have ‘catastrophic implications’ for patients and those who work on the front line of health service, says Sinn Féin

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has responded to criticisms of the health budget by insisting there are no plans “to reopen the Government’s agreed budget allocations” and the question of a bailout for the Department of Health will be considered only later this year.

Mr Donohoe was responding to fierce criticism of the health budget, which senior figures including Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Health Service Executive chief executive Bernard Gloster have said in recent days will be insufficient to meet demand.

The Government is facing external criticism and internal division over the health budget, just a week after the budget allocated €22.5 billion for next year, and the issue is certain to be raised by Opposition parties in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said the Coalition leaders had “made a deliberate and disastrous decision to dramatically underfund our health services. This will have catastrophic implications for patients and those who work on the front line.


“The onus is on these three leaders to row back from their reckless decision and properly fund our health services.”

Mr Cullinane also said he would seek to have Mr Donnelly, Mr Gloster and Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt appear before the Oireachtas health committee “as soon as is possible”.

Social Democrats health spokesperson Róisín Shortall called on Mr Donohoe to take questions in the Dáil this week and “explain why there is a €2 billion hole in the health service budget for 2024”.

But speaking from Luxembourg, where he is chairing a meeting of European Union finance ministers, Mr Donohoe took an uncompromising line.

“Ireland spends more of its national income on health than most EU member states, and this expenditure occurs with a younger population than many comparable member states,” he said in a statement.

“There is no proposal to reopen the Government agreed budget allocations. The details of supplementary estimates will be considered as more financial information is available towards the end of the year,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly said money for new medicines would still be available next year despite the lack of any dedicated funding for them in last week’s budget.

The State will pay for new medicines through reinvesting savings on the overall drug budget of €3.2 billion a year, he said. Even a 0.5 per cent saving on this would free up €16 million – almost as much as the €18 million allocated for this in 2023.

Mr Donnelly said he is working with his department, the HSE and the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) on how exactly to target savings on the drugs budgets. “Measures include moving very quickly to generics and biosimilars as soon as medicines come off patent.”

Prof Michael Barry of the NCPE – which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new medicines – said the lack of dedicated funding in the budget for new drugs was likely to lead to delays for patients.

However, he expressed confidence that savings could be made in the drugs budget, which could then be ring-fenced and used to fund new medicines. “Whether those savings will be enough to fund all the drugs that people would like to avail of is another matter,” he said.

A significant number of high-budget-impact drugs will be going off patent in the coming years, he said, and these could be substituted with cheaper biosimilar drugs. Often, biosimilar drugs are a quarter or a fifth of the price of the original patented medicine.

More than 4,000 patients may be unable to access potentially life-saving medicines next year due to the Government’s decision not to provide dedicated funding for new drugs in the budget, The Irish Times reported on Monday.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times