HSE Chief Admits Patients May Suffer Due To €300m Cutbacks

Patient services may be affected as health cutbacks of at least €300m will have to be implemented this year to stay in budget.

Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Brendan Drumm warned yesterday if demand-led schemes grow, such as the medical card scheme, even more savings will have to be made.

Efficiencies will be made in areas which do not affect patient care such as a renegotiated pharmacy contract, changes in spending in travel, telephone, subsistence and the “corporate HSE”, he said.

However, he cautioned it may reach a point where patient-related services may be affected. Prof Drumm said he was now flagging “major challenges” in the system this year because of its financial situation.

He said: “For us, the first option is to maximise our funds. The €300m is a ‘start out’ position, but if demand-led schemes grow this could be higher.”

He said medical cards are going up significantly in an economy that is experiencing a growing rate of unemployment.

He said other measures being examined include providing five-day units in hospital where seven-day units are not required.

“For instance, in surgery, five-day units are very effective. The units would not be open at weekends or during the summer where no surgeon is available because they are on leave.

Last year the HSE had to impose a recruitment freeze from September in order to rein in its budget by over €200m.

Strict limits are also in place this year governing the appointment of staff.

However, Prof Drumm said yesterday that plans to recruit more cancer specialists for the eight hospitals to be designated as centres of excellence will not be affected.


National Director of Cancer Control Tom Keane said yesterday he had asked for the allocation of €5.8m to build up capacity in the eight hospitals including the hiring of more specialists and upgrading of equipment.

Mr Keane has now carried out a review of the requirements of the eight hospitals where it is planned most cancer services will be concentrated by the end of 2009.

Patients can still receive chemotherapy in their local hospital.

He said responsibility for cancer services will transfer to his office at the end of this month, he said. He expected breast cancer services to be transferred from hospitals in Drogheda, Tralee and Kilkenny to the bigger centres within six months.

Services from Sligo and Castlebar will be switched to Galway by the end of the year.

However, there are suspicions that the delay in finalising the new contract for hospital consultants is related to financial pressures as managers seek to stall the appointment of expensive new specialists involved in other areas of care.