Sinn Fein accuses Government of ‘mismanaging’ health service in testy exchange

Simon Harris said the government has allocated two billion euro for health in 2024 (Brian Lawless/PA)
Simon Harris said the government has allocated two billion euro for health in 2024 (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Government has been accused of mismanaging the health service during a testy exchange with Sinn Fein.

Minister Simon Harris insisted the Government is investing in and growing the service, and criticised Sinn Fein’s plans as well as claiming “they either shout at you or threaten to sue you”.

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane criticised a recruitment freeze for “thousands of vital frontline posts”, claiming 7,000 posts essential posts have been scrapped because of Government’s “mismanagement of the health budget”.

“The disastrous decision and consequences of this Government’s decision to deliberately underfund the health services for next year becomes clearer by the day and by the week,” he said.

He said 595 patients on hospital trolleys were recorded on Monday ahead of an “extremely difficult winter in our health services”.

“And your Government in that context has decided to deliberately underfund the health service,” he said.

“It was quite obvious from the budget that your Government has thrown in the towel on health. You have condemned tens of thousands of patients and staff to extreme risk in hospitals this winter.”

Speaking during leaders’ questions, he challenged the Government to revise the health budget and reverse the recruitment embargo.

Responding for the Government, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said in September there were 143,075 staff working in the Irish health service, an increase of 5,330 this year.

He also said there is funding to “further grow the size of the health service workforce in 2024”.

“This is for 2023. We have budget 2024. We have the first of January weeks away and that is a year in which the Minister for Health has more money for the HSE to hire more nurses, more doctors in addition to the exemptions that have already been secured.”

Mr Harris said the Government has allocated two billion euro for health in 2024, whereas the Sinn Fein alternative budget for health has a 1.5 billion euro allocation for health.

“So when you asked me to revise the health budget, are you asking me to cut the health budget by a further half a billion to reflect your policy plans?” he said.

Mr Cullinane said his party’s plan “would have provided for existing levels of service above that 1.5 billion”, and accused the minister of “bluster”.

He raised the plight of patients waiting for treatment and also Irish health workers abroad wanting to come home to work.

“So I’m asking you again to stop making this about Sinn Fein. You and your Government made the decision, reverse the decision, reverse that disastrous recruitment embargo and do what’s right for those patients I’ve spoken about and those people who want to come and work in the public system.”

Referencing the next general election, Mr Harris responded: “I’m not making this about Sinn Fein at all, I’m making it about choices and the choices the Irish people have in relation to this government versus that Government.”

He quipped: “They tend to shout at you or sue you,” as Mr Cullinane attempted to respond.

“Elections and politics and accountability are about making choices, and the people of Ireland will have a choice,” he added.