Ministers accused of standing over ‘unforgivable’ underfunding of health service

Donohoe responds to criticisms by insisting there are no plans ‘to reopen the Government’s agreed budget allocations’

Ministers have been accused of standing over an “unforgivable” underfunding of the health service and warned that it could result in a motion of no confidence being tabled by the Opposition against the Government.

Labour TD Duncan Smith said it has been an “incredible week” for the health service “and not for the good”.

The Coalition is facing external criticism and internal division over the health budget, just a week after allocating €22.5 billion for services next year. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly secured a €700 million budget increase, despite telling his Coalition colleagues that more than €2 billion extra would be needed.

“We have the head of the HSE saying he won’t have enough money to run the health service. We have the Minister for Health failing to deliver on a whole host of areas both within the health service and on the top line figure of overall funding. It is unlike years before,” Mr Smith said.

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Asked if it could become an issue of confidence in the Government, the Dublin Fingal TD said it could and that cuts in the Department of Health were more impactful than in some other departments.

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

Mr Smith called on Mr Donnelly to make statements in the Dáil to outline a plan as to “how he is going to fund and staff the healthcare sector”.

Sinn Féin TD and health spokesman David Cullinane said the health budget issue would become “a huge story” and is “a very real crisis for the Government”.

He said he spoke to the HSE on Tuesday and was told that a maximum of €400 million in savings could be made. It is understood that Ministers have recently discussed a €600 million “efficiencies” or savings plan.

Asked if he was considering a motion of no confidence, Mr Cullinane said Sinn Féin would reflect on a course of action if the Government does not adequately address the problem.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said it is “scandalous” that the Government is preparing for a significant health spending deficit this year and has agreed a budget “which will see a worsening of the health crisis, with more people on waiting lists and more people on trolleys this coming winter and the following winter”.

“That is the reality of what the Government has done. It is ordinary patients who are going to suffer as a result of the recruitment freeze,” he said.

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″.

Mr Donohoe, who is in Luxembourg chairing a meeting of European Union finance ministers, said in a statement: “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.

“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.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times