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Financial Resolutions 2018

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Budget Statement 2018

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Snippet Contents:

The budget is an extensive document and it is difficult to deal with each issue comprehensively, so I will only address a number of them.
One topic three quarters of the way through the Budget Statement related to a VAT compensation scheme for charities. I am delighted that this has finally been introduced. Last year, the then Minister for Finance undertook to review this matter. I am happy that it has been included in this year's budget. A review group was set up in 2015 to examine it. The current Minister has decided on a Danish model of VAT compensation involving a budgetary fund. He has placed €5 million in that fund, which will be made available for charities to reclaim VAT on funds that they have raised through public donations. Charities have consistently raised funds by selling flags, holding street collections, selling lines and organising public events, so paying 23% VAT on those raised funds seemed quite wrong. It was a tax collection system in respect of charities. It reduced the amount of money that they could spend on their services, which were often delivered on behalf of the Government. As such, introducing a VAT compensation scheme in the budget is a positive measure. It will give certainty to charities over the funds that they raise in future. I hope the fund of €5 million will be built up year on year so that charities that claim VAT will get most, if not all, of their VAT back. Unfortunately, €5 million will not be sufficient to allow all charities to claim their VAT back but it is a start and I welcome the Minister's introduction of this scheme. Many people have worked on this matter over the years. I thank the Minister for listening to my representations on the scheme over the past year. It is an important component of the budget.
Budgets are set pieces and we want to know how much money will be allocated in them, but it is more important to consider how the allocated money is spent. In this regard, I will refer in particular to our health spending. The Minister has announced a €685 million increase in the health budget, representing a 5% increase in health spending. However, when one takes the demographic changes into account - a growing population, the increasing age of that population and the growth in demand that these two factors place on our health budget - that 5% increase is rapidly whittled away. The entire 5% will be taken up by demographic considerations in the budget. The increase is just keeping pace with spending.
The increase does not address the legacy issues that have built up in our health service over the years either. We have a large waiting list for elective care with almost 100,000 patients awaiting elective hospital procedures. Some of these are serious procedures. We have a list of more than 500,000 people waiting for outpatient appointments. We have a bed shortage in our hospitals given that more than 1,500 beds have been removed from the system in spite of a growing population. We need to view the increase of €685 million in that context. We need a large increase in bed capacity, including ICU beds, which play a critical role in allowing patients to have surgical procedures.
We need to consider how we are funding our health service. Each day, almost 500 people are on trolleys. A trolley count has become institutionalised. It peaks every winter. Last year, it peaked at 612. This year, it will peak above that.
None of the €685 million will address these issues. We need health reform. The Sláintecare report was published last May but there was not one mention of it in the Minister's speech. The report contained a reference to transitional funding, which we need to build into our health service over and above our current spending. The budget makes no mention of transitional funding to deal with the legacy issues in our health service.
We need to consider how we are spending our money and not just the gross amount offered in the budget. The budget mentions employing 1,800 staff. We all know the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff in our health service. To recruit 1,800 staff will be a mammoth task and significant challenge for our health service.
The budget makes reference to a €90 million access plan.