Health cuts to be worse than expected

Up to €1 billion could be cut from the health budget in 2011

Cuts in health funding could reach €1 billion next year according to embattled Health Minister Mary Harney.

Speaking following this week’s ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) conference in Dublin, Ms Harney indicated that the previous maximum figure of €600 million

is the very least to be expected. “It will certainly be a minimum of €600 million,” she said. “And it could well be substantially higher.”

When asked if the cuts could reach the €2bn mark, she said: “I’m not certain it will be that high but it will be somewhere between €600m and €1bn.”

Thanks to the Croke Park agreement pay rates can’t be cut and, given that pay makes up 70 per cent of the health budget, areas such as procurement, cutting services and staff overtime are likely to see the axe falling.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Ms Harney continued. “There’s no easy way to take that kind of money out. Even if you are talking about €600m, it’s an enormous amount of money.”

The minister indicated that the redeployment of services would be crucial during 2011 and beyond if services to the public are to be maintained. However, the government has again come under attack for its handling of the cuts, with several trade unions leading the criticism.

The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU)’s acting national health organiser Paul Bell said that “past experience shows that the axe wielded by the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney and the HSE is too blunt to ensure savings are not at the expense of services being delivered directly to the public”.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) have again called for a crisis summit on health services and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have reiterated their call for the time period to reduce the deficit to be extended. Dave Begg, general secretary of the ICTU told RTÉ News that reducing the deficit to 3 per cent by 2014 cannot be achieved without causing “permanent damage to the fabric of society”.

He continued: “We simply can’t manage to do this over a four-year period. Fiscal retrenchment on its own can’t be achieved purely through austerity. You need to have some growth in the system.

“We have to get the fiscal situation in order but we need to do it over a period of time which doesn’t prevent growth from taking hold and giving us a boost.”