Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


12:25 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy. Following Government approval, the HSE published its service plan for 2020 yesterday. The budget for the HSE next year is €17 billion, the biggest ever budget for our health service, and an increase of more than 6%. While the Deputy rightly points out that we have a growing and ageing population, a 6% increase is more than what is required to meet the resultant demographic demand. A lot of that money, roughly half, will go into additional pay and pensions for our healthcare staff. We stand over that. We want to be able to pay our staff better and pay them more, and that is why so much of next year's budget will go into pay and pensions. Roughly half of the increase will go directly to staff in pay increases, pensions and the hiring of additional staff. I thank the HSE, the new board and the new CEO for the professional and collaborative manner in which the service plan was drawn up this year. It was so much more professional and collaborative than in previous years. We have seen a dramatic improvement in financial planning and management under the new CEO and board, and I am grateful to all of them for that.

Regarding the Deputy's question about the embargo, I know he has read the service plan and knows it provides for an increase of 3,000 in the total number of staff in our health service. Increasing staff numbers by 3,000 does not constitute an embargo. This time next year 3,000 more staff will work in our health service than today. However, managers are no longer permitted to hire staff for positions that are not funded. That is the norm across the public service. It was not the norm in the health service for a very long time. Now it is, as it should be. Because normal public service rules now apply and staff cannot be hired for positions that are not funded, the deficit for the HSE is dramatically lower than in previous years. Principals cannot hire teachers that are not funded and Garda inspectors cannot hire gardaí that are not funded. We now have a normal set of rules in our public service and health service when it comes to the hiring of staff. There will be 3,000 more staff in our health service next year.

There will also be additional funding for community services and extra home care hours. For the first time, the budget for disability will exceed €2 billion in one year, which will mean more places for school leavers with disabilities, more autism services, additional respite care, more personal assistant hours and more residential places for people with disabilities who are no longer able to live at home.

Often they have ageing parents who cannot look after them anymore. There are additional palliative care beds: 55 in Kildare, Mayo, Waterford and Wicklow following the opening of the new hospices. I do not think so many hospices have ever been opened in one year. There is additional funding for the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, to widen eligibility and reduce prescription charges, to extend free GP care to six year olds and seven year olds and make it easier for people over 70 to get a medical card. There is funding for the maternity strategy, the cancer strategy and the trauma strategy. There is €1 billion for mental health for the first time, additional funding for the fair deal scheme to make sure that waiting times do not exceed four weeks, or at least stand at an average of four weeks, additional funding for the voluntary hospices such as Marymount Hospice, St. Francis's Hospice and others, to begin to equalise their funding with the statutory hospices and additional funding for winter capacity. By no means will the extra staff and extra money solve all our problems in the health service, but it does give us a fighting chance of making some real improvements next year.


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