herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Varadkar's warning over cuts to health service levels

HEALTH

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar issued a dire warning to Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin that cuts demanded in the health sector would cause a "serious downgrading" in quality of services.

In confidential correspondence obtained by the Herald from Mr Varadkar to Mr Howlin, the Health Minister warned that the programme for government commitments on primary care, mental health and disability "would have to be abandoned" for him to deliver savings being asked of him by Mr Howlin for this year.

Pressure

Given the pressure on the budget, senior Government sources have said Mr Varadkar is set to receive an end-of-year bailout for his department of up to €600m.

Much better than expected exchequer returns will enable Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin to cover the overrun in health, according to senior Government sources.

But in his letter to Mr Howlin in advance of last October's budget, Mr Varadkar also warned that commitments under the Haddington Road pay deal would need to "be replaced".

"It would also be necessary to enter negotiations with trade unions to replace the Haddington Road Agreement with a new agreement providing for more cuts to core and premium pay," Mr Varadkar wrote.

Downgrading

In his robust letter, Mr Varadkar said: "The further 5pc reduction which we have been asked for would necessitate measures which would amount to a very serious downgrading of the level and quality of services."

Mr Varadkar also warned that the cuts being demanded by Mr Howlin would force the cancellation of the National Children's Hospital, the Maternity Hospital or the Central Mental Hospital.

Separate "urgent" correspondence from senior Health officials to the Department of PER reveal how major decisions about health spending in 2015 had yet to be taken just three days out from budget day.

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