Concern at ‘sustainability’ of health spending after 15% increase in first quarter

Health service argues there has been a further increase in demand for hospital services while measures to tackle expenditure are under way

The Department of Public Expenditure (DPER) has expressed concern about the “sustainability” of growth in health spending, which was up 15 per cent year on year in the first quarter.

Demand for services, particularly in acute hospitals, increased over the winter, according to the Department of Health, which said measures are being put in place to control spending.

However, some sources argued that the increase in health service spending was in line with the levels recorded in other areas of Government.

DPER told The Irish Times that health expenditure overall was running 15 per cent in advance of the equivalent period for last year. “This is concerning from an expenditure sustainability perspective,” it said in a statement.


Total gross voted expenditure across Government in the first quarter amounted to €22.8 billion, some €2.9 billion (14.9 per cent) above the same period last year, which was in line with expectations, DPER said last week. However, it said specific sectors were reporting significant pressures, with current expenditure running some €275 million (1.3 per cent) ahead of target. Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said there was a need for all departments to manage their spending and to remain within profile.

A spokesman for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Sunday the health service had seen a 12 per cent increase in presentations for unscheduled care in acute hospitals in the first 12 weeks of the year.

The spokesman added that health expenditure tended to be in advance of profile at this stage of the year and a number of measures were being implemented in an attempt to tackle the issue.

“The Minister put in place a productivity and savings taskforce in order to address these issues, and that taskforce will publish its first action plan in the next week,” he said.

The HSE received a budget of about €23 billion this year, but warned at the time that the cost of providing existing services at current levels was likely to exceed this allocation. It said it was working to enact the service plan agreed with the Department of Health and this included very significant measures to strengthen cost controls while ensuring continuity of services.

“In the first 12 weeks of this year there has been unprecedented growth in demand for many of our services and we have continued to respond to that so as to provide necessary patient care,” the HSE said.

“We have established a productivity taskforce jointly with the Department of Health and its mission is to identify ways of increasing efficiency and controlling expenditure to ensure we get the very best value from the resources we have. ”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent