Minister Varadkar speech to the Select Committee on Health Estimate for 2015

Address by the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar T.D. to the Select Committee on Health Estimate for 2015


Chairman, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Select Committee today on the Revised Estimates for 2015 for my Department (Vote 38).

I very much welcome the new emphasis on performance in these discussions. The briefing provided to the Deputies this year concentrates on the three particular service areas which the Committee has expressed particular interest in – primary care services, acute hospital services and long term residential care.

On my appointment as Minister for Health, I said on more than one occasion that it is my first priority to achieve a realistic budget for the health service. We have achieved that in terms of the Revised Health Estimate for 2015.  Before looking at the estimates in detail, I would like to make a few general observations about the overall budgetary situation as there are a number of complicating factors this year.

The Disestablishment of the HSE Vote is we all appreciate, a complicating factor when comparing year on year.

Since the beginning of this year, the HSE is funded by grants provided under Vote 38. The revised Vote structure has resulted in income of some €1 billion previously accounted for as Appropriations-in-Aid to the Vote of the HSE no longer included in the Vote of the Department and rather being accounted for as income in the Annual Financial Statements of the HSE.  This income comprises hospital maintenance receipts, superannuation, pension levy and other miscellaneous income such as car parks, restaurants and PCRS.

Restating the Health Vote for 2014, on a like-for-like basis consistent with the new Vote structure, the gross REV provision for the Health Vote for 2014 is €12.113 billion while the post-supplementary position is €12.793 billion. In other words, the gross Vote is €564m higher in 2015 than the original provision in 2014.

In addition to the increased Exchequer funding, additional (non-vote) income collected by the HSE of €131m and at least €130 million through cost reductions and other savings have also been identified which will be retained within the HSE to support services providing, in effect, €825 million in additional resources compared to the original position in 2014 or €145m compared to the post supplementary position.

This funding increase is part of a two year process to stabilise and improve health funding.  The spending ceiling for health in 2016 has already been increased by a further €174 million.

Given the demographic pressures facing the sector, there is no question that the budgetary situation remains challenging – I am however confident that we are in a much more stable financial position than we have been for some time.  The budget parameters for 2015 have allowed the HSE Service Plan to include a number of targeted enhancements to health and social care services, while providing generally for the delivery of existing levels of services.  The Service Plan also progresses key elements of the health service reform programme.

In addition, Minister Lynch and I recently published our 25 health priorities for the year ahead.  The measures include legislation to reduce alcohol consumption, proposals to extend the remit of HIQA, extending the range of services available in primary care, moves to increase the number of people with health insurance, and the first national survey of Ireland’s health in eight years.

These priorities provide a clear direction for the development of health services and policy in 2015 and align with and support many of the developments provided for in the Service Plan.

Health Care Reform

There is, undoubtedly, a strong case for increased funding on health in the years ahead. However it is also important to acknowledge that, with growing demand, increasing health funding without reform will not resolve the difficulties our health services face. Our experience during the boom ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, when considerably increased year-on-year funding was spent on health without a satisfactory return, is a stark testimony to that.

Providing more resources without reform simply won’t work which is why the continuation of the programme of health service reform is of critical importance.  With this in mind, the HSE’s 2015 Service Plan gives priority to progressing the Government’s reform agenda.

The 2015 Service Plan provides for the establishment of Community Healthcare Organisations which will improve the way in which primary care in the community is delivered.

Likewise, the reorganisation of public hospitals into Hospital Groups is designed to deliver improved outcomes for patients.  Each group of hospitals will work together to provide acute care for patients in their area integrating with community and primary care.

The objective is to maximise the amount of care delivered locally while ensuring that specialist and complex care is safely provided in larger specialist centres.

One of my priorities for 2015 is to get the Community Healthcare Organisations and the Hospital Groups up and running.

As part of the reform agenda, I also expect to see the issuing of the first individual Health Identifiers, increased investment in ICT and eHealth and the embedding of the “activity based funding” model in the health service in 2015.  This year’s Estimate provides for an almost 40% increase in ICT funding from €40m to €55m. That needs to be sustained.

Governance and Accountability

The HSE has put in place a considerably enhanced governance and accountability framework for 2015.  This is set out in detail in the Service Plan.

The framework provides the means by which the HSE, Hospital Groups and Community Health Organisations and other units, will be held to account throughout the year for their efficiency and control across the balanced scorecard of access to services, patient safety, finance and Human Resources.

Performance Indicators

A suite of Performance Indicators for 2015 is set out in the HSE’s 2015 Service Plan.  Having clear and achievable targets is important both in terms of driving performance and activity forward and in measuring past performance.

Performance Indicators are particularly useful when it comes to measuring volume and throughput. However, they are not always sufficient in themselves when it comes to evaluating the more qualitative aspects of service delivery.

For example, an existing Performance Indicator for ambulance response times measures the extent to which a target time of nineteen minutes is achieved. This is an important measure but what it cannot do is to consider or take into account the actual outcome for the patient. HIQA now acknowledges that we need to have a different set of targets, and new ones based on clinical audit.

Service Enhancements

As I mentioned earlier, the 2015 Service Plan, provides for the delivery of an existing level of services, with targeted enhancements in some areas.

Enhancements include the commencement of the extension to the BreastCheck Programme to women aged 65 to 69 years of age, implementation of the first two phases of a universal GP service, making a GP service without fees available to all children under  and everyone over 70 years and the provision of €30m in funding for new Hepatitis C drugs which cure the virus.

An additional €35 million in ring-fenced funding is being provided for mental health services in 2015.

A number of measures will be taken this year to further develop primary care services thereby allowing more people to receive a wide range of quality services in their own community.

An extra €14m is being provided for primary care developments including the extension of the pilot ultrasound GP access project and the provision of additional minor surgery services in agreed GP practises and primary care centres.

There will also be an extension of the GP out-of-hours services, within existing resources, to areas currently not covered, and more spending on community orthodontic and ophthalmic services.

An additional €2m is being provided to improve maternity services.

Emergency Departments, Delayed Discharges, Waiting Times

Minister Lynch and I are also keen to deliver real improvements in patient access and experience in our hospitals in 2015.  For this reason, we have included clear targets for 2015 in relation to delayed discharges, trolley waits and waiting lists times in our recently published health priorities for this year.

We want to reduce the number of patients with delayed discharges by one third to less than 500. We are looking to reduce the number of patients on trolleys in Emergency Departments waiting for admission for over 9 hours by one third to less than 70.

We are also committed to developing and implementing a plan to address waiting lists, with a focus on very long waiters, so that by mid-year, nobody will wait longer than 18 months for in-patient and day case treatment or an out-patient appointment, with a further reduction thereafter to no greater than 15 months by year end.

These targets involve progressive and measurable improvement for patients, and I expect all hospitals to at a minimum meet, and where possible surpass them.


There are enormous demands and cost pressures on our health service.

Health care demand continues to rise due to our growing and ageing population, the increasing incidence of chronic conditions and advances in medical technologies and treatments.

Health services all around the world are struggling with this issue of rising costs, deficits and difficulties getting staff and I am aware of the limitations as to what can be achieved with the additional funding available this year.

We clearly do not have sufficient funds to address all areas of concern across the health sector immediately.

However, what we have been able to do in this year’s HSE Service Plan is to make a welcome start towards stabilising and improving the funding of our health services.

To conclude, I thank the Committee for its attention and I commend the estimates for the Health Vote to the Committee. I will of course be glad to supply any further information or clarification that Members may request.