Taoiseach defends HSE after budget ‘black hole’ claims

The Taoiseach has defended the HSE after allegations of ‘negligence’ in its financial reports.

SE chief executive Paul Reid also defended the organization, denying allegations of “false targets” for hiring staff and the existence of a “black hole” in its budget.

It comes after the Sunday Business Post reported comments allegedly made by Department of Health officials at a January 27 meeting to discuss the health budget watchdog group.

The Taoiseach said on Monday it had “faith” in the HSE and said the claims did “not reflect reality”.

Speaking to reporters, Micheál Martin said the health service had a “huge budget”.

“And over the past two years there has been record recruitment into the HSE, quite extraordinary recruitment considering that every year people leave the HSE for a variety of reasons.

“So the reality is there, in terms of how many people are now working with the health service.

“Over the last two years, you’re looking at a net 12,500 more people working in the health service. What I’ve read from those transcripts doesn’t seem at all accurate to the reality.”

He also said the government had provided additional funding “to help society respond to mental health issues arising from Covid-19”.

“My own view is that if you look at the amazing work that many people within HSE are undertaking, the conversations for me don’t quite reflect the reality on the ground.”

While commending the work of HSE management during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Martin added: “We are always looking for reform. We are always looking for improvement, and we look forward to further improvements, especially in terms of bed capacity.”

Mr Reid was also quizzed by reporters on the Sunday Business Post story and defended the HSE’s record.

He said that on the issue of recruiting, it “specifically relates to what we’ve been through for the past couple of years and what the markets are telling us are available to recruit this year.”

He said the HSE was “striving” to achieve its goals.

Mr Reid also defended financial oversight in the healthcare system, saying: “We have very strong oversight with our board, through our board’s audit and risk committee, in conjunction with the Department of Health And those are two common issues that we’re working on…to assess if there are any adjustments that need to be made.

“It won’t be in the region of hundreds of millions, if there are any.

“If you look at what’s happened over the last two or three years, with the new oversight with myself and the HSE Board, where previously you had racked up £800million deficits and supplementary budgets and a billion, the last two years, we went back on the budget.

“There are very strict financial management controls overall within the HSE.”

He said the report did not reflect the ‘joint commitment’ between the HSE and the Department of Health.

“It’s very collaborative, certainly difficult. But these comments do not reflect our ongoing engagement with the department and do not reflect the very strong focus we have on all aspects of finance within HSE.”

It was also reported that officials had made comments about the “dysfunction” and distrust of the health sector.

Officials also claimed that the target of recruiting 10,000 people this year would not be met and that the updated figure would be 5,500.

Asked by reporters whether those goals were achievable, Mr Reid said: “If you look at what we’ve recruited over the last two years, it’s actually well over 30,000 people we’ve recruited. We have to recruit 9,500 people every year just to stand still.”

“When we look at the recruitment process for this coming year, we have funding for 10,000 people. We will strive to get as close to that as possible. The reality, as we know what the market is, there is great global demand.

“So it’s hard to get there. But we’re very happy that we got this funding from the government.”

Earlier, Mr Reid told RTÉ radio there was no ‘black hole’ in the HSE budget.

“I want to take stock, there will be no adjustment of hundreds of millions in our budgets. There is no black hole,” he said.

“What is happening is a process that is ongoing jointly between us and the department, which is an assessment of a potential financial adjustment, and this is a process that has been initiated by ourselves, the HSE , our Audit and Risk Committee and the Board of Directors, to look at certain levels of provisions and approvals at the end of December 2020.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the Irish Organization of Nurses and Midwives, was asked about the report on Monday.

She said her union would like to see the breakdown of the HSE budget, adding: “For us the most important thing is to ensure that any funding allocated to recruitment is spent on recruitment.

“We are constantly struggling to recruit and we are constantly struggling to get enough funding to make sure we have enough positions.

“So for us, we think any arguments should never interfere with that. And we encourage both the Department of Health and the HSE to address the issue.

“We need more nurses, we need our health services to be able to recruit and also to retain, because right now it’s a very difficult working environment and we want to make sure that is as good as possible for people to stay to reduce the overseas recruitment requirement.”

Comments are closed.