Warning over healthcare cuts plan
Frontline healthcare will be severely hit if Health Minister Mary Harney oversees up to a billion euro in cuts, critics have warned.
Ms Harney warned the search for at least 600 million euro budget savings will prove challenging as Health Service Executive pay cannot be touched.
"I want to make it clear that it won't be easy. There's no easy way to take that kind of money out," she said.
Ms Harney said that most of the 14 billion euro HSE budget goes on salaries - ring-fenced under the Croke Park agreement with the unions.
She suggested that the Government would have to make the savings of between 600 million and a billion euro out of a third of the health budget. "That's going to be really challenging," she said.
Ms Harney issued the stark warning over future health budgets as Fine Gael revealed 92 million euro was spent on agency staff last year. It criticised the public sector recruitment freeze and claimed the embargo was forcing hospitals to hire expensive temporary nursing staff and locum doctors.
James Reilly, the party's health spokesman, warned these costs must be reduced, along with absenteeism, before the HSE tries to cut on the front line.
"While it may not be possible to cut the agency staff bill down to nothing, this suggests tens of millions of euro could be saved by addressing the issue," Dr Reilly said. "There are seriously inefficient practices that need to be addressed."
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) repeated its call for a crisis summit on the health services to be convened immediately. Liam Doran, INMO general secretary, warned that patient care will be severely compromised and front line services significantly curtailed under the cuts.
Jan O'Sullivan, Labour's health spokeswoman, said care services would collapse under such severe cuts.