Roisin Shortall TD

The Government continues to be in denial about the impact of health service underfunding on patient care, according to Social Democrats health spokesperson Róisín Shortall.

“Reports in the media today of Paschal Donohoe’s trenchant criticisms of financial management at the Health Department and the HSE are further evidence that the Government deliberately underfunded the health service – seemingly as a punitive measure.

“In addition, comments made this week by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) are very significant. In a scathing assessment of Budget 2024, they said that even though demographic and inflationary pressures were predictable in 2023, the health budget was not sufficient to meet these challenges.

“A supplementary allocation of €1 billion had to be made last month to partially plug this funding hole. However, this €1 billion needs be included in the base figure for 2024 if there is to be any hope of avoiding major cuts to patient services next year.

“When I raised this point with the Taoiseach in the Dáil this week, he dismissed the prospect of addressing the health deficit in this way. This is despite there being no doubt that the health allocation for next year will be insufficient to maintain even the existing level of service.

“This was spelled out in stark terms by HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster prior to the Budget being signed off. We also know that his dire warning received scant attention in the Department of Public Expenditure, with its Secretary General erroneously denying receipt of Mr Gloster’s letter.

“The Oireachtas committees of Health and Finance have agreed to hold a joint meeting with the Public Expenditure Secretary General to probe this further and to discuss what is an extremely dysfunctional method of allocating the health budget.

“At a time when we have long waiting lists for practically every aspect of the health service, Minister Donohoe and the entire Cabinet have a collective responsibility to ensure there is an acceptable level of patient care.

“Since October’s Budget was announced, we have seen the return of a HSE recruitment embargo and heard warnings about cuts to funding for key clinical programmes and new drugs. The scale of underfunding threatens to undermine the recent progress made in transitioning to a properly functioning public health service under Sláintecare.”

December 8, 2023

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