Varadkar fails to deliver ‘realistic’ expenditure plan
Budget 2015 analysis in Irish Independent on 15 October 2014
The fact that further health cuts are not the story of Budget 2015 is an achievement for Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Since taking up post, Varadkar has prioritised securing a “realistic budget for health”.
In 2014, €12.774bn was allocated to health. In 2015, it is to be €13.079, a net increase of €305m for next year. However, there is also an extra one-off ‘windfall’ of €330m sourced from monies owed from Britain and health insurers and €130m in ‘new savings’. None of this includes the supplementary health budget for this year, which Minister Varadkar said will be “north of €500m”.
Minister Howlin said proudly in his Budget speech that “in 2015, over 2.1 million people – nearly half the population – will have a medical or GP visit card. This includes… GP coverage to the Under-6s and the Over-70s”. This Government has consistently broken its promise of extending free GP care, first to the sickest, then to children. When pushed on it at yesterday’s health press briefing, Minister Kathleen Lynch said they were hopeful this would be in place in the first quarter of 2015. Given their form to date and that this measure requires successful negotiations with GPs means this promise remains elusive.
The really interesting figure to watch for in 2015 will be how many people have medical cards. Most recent figures show 1,804,376 people are covered. Yesterday, Minister Varadkar said they expected fewer in 2015 due to improved economic circumstances, but that the HSE Service Plan would reveal “changed guidelines for discretionary medical cards to allow more people with profound illness to get them” – let’s watch that space with anticipation.
There were more promises to deliver extra staff in mental health and primary care. We have heard this before and there are now fewer mental health and primary care staff than two years ago. There is an additional €25m to deal with delayed discharges in hospitals. It will be interesting to see whether Varadkar will succeed where his predecessors have failed.
Budget 2015 is a step in the right direction for health, but it is insufficient to make up for the disproportionate cuts imposed on health during the last seven austerity budgets. It fails to take account of increased need of our growing, ageing, population, let alone the necessity to improve services.
Yesterday’s three-year expenditure plan details just €213m more for health between next year and 2017. This is hardly enough to survive, let alone meet the inevitable extra demand. This is not a “realistic” health budget for the years ahead.