Massive health cuts in 2010

Health Minister Mary Harney has warned of massive health cutbacks in 2010. Speaking at a conference in Dublin yesterday, she said the level of spending cuts in health would be considerable.

She said with the Government set to impose major public service spending cuts across the board, it would be the most challenging year ever in terms of funding the health service.

The Minister said the HSE had already been asked to examine how €800 million could be cut from its budget next year, and it was also facing pressures on its services, such as the cost of providing medical cards, which could cost an extra €400 million.

She was speaking at a seminar on healthcare financing organised by the Society of Actuaries in Ireland and the Institute of Public Administration.

It is expected that next year's cuts will include reductions in health service staff pay, overtime and other allowances and moves to change work practices.

These moves are likely to be strongly resisted by health unions.

Further hospital bed closures are also expected. Already, 1,900 beds are not available in the hospital system due to cutbacks and delayed discharges.

Measures recommended by an 'Bord Snip', such as changes in medical card eligibility and charging for medical card prescriptions, could also be considered.

The Minister also pointed out yesterday that GPs in Ireland are paid a much higher fee than their UK counterparts for administering the flu vaccine. It is expected that a lower fee will be imposed when the swine flu vaccine becomes available.

Speaking at the seminar, John Armstrong of the Society of Actuaries said we should not get embroiled in ideological positions on health reform issues and base our analysis on informed facts.

"In Ireland, the development of the Health Information and Quality Authority has been an important milestone in meeting this objective. The evidence from other countries is that the role of such agencies should be expanded as they fulfill a pivotal role,” he said.

Prof Alan Maynard of the University of York told the conference that countries such as England and Ireland can no longer afford to be profligate in their funding of healthcare, whether it is provided by the public or private sectors.

“The inefficient practices produced by perverse incentives in organisational structures and the restrictive practices of the labour force can no longer be tolerated if public health care systems are to prosper,” he said.


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