Tuesday 27 September 2016

Payroll controls on hospitals may hit hiring of doctors

Eilish O'Regan and Kevin Doyle

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Arthur Carron

The hiring of doctors and other frontline health staff may be hit by new payroll controls on hospitals.

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Under new employment checks, hospitals are told if there is an overrun in the amount of funding they received for payroll this year, they will have to stop filling some vacancies if they want to continue hiring frontline staff such as doctors and nurses.

Asked if some grades of staff such as doctors are fully exempted from these spending restraints, a spokesman said no grades of staff were singled out and the directive to hospitals was to stay within budget.

Earlier, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he believed the directive did not affect ongoing recruitment campaigns for hospital consultants or the filling of existing vacancies.

"We had a problem last year with individual parts of the health service going off and hiring staff without having the money to pay for it. That gave rise to part of the overrun last year and that can't happen."

Asked about his reported comments that extra resources for some hospitals could slow down the movement of patients though the system, he said it needed to be clarified that he referred to "some hospitals, sometimes", and he never said it was staff who were slowing down processes.

He pointed out that a hospital can hire additional staff to cope with a particularly busy period but once the crisis is over it goes back to normal. "It is not as simple as more staff, more resources, more beds."

Lottery

Mr Varadkar and Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday promised to hire 259 speech and language therapists and psychologists, 1,000 health and social care professionals as well as 600 consultants, doctors and dentists, if re-elected.

However, figures obtained by Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall reveal patients in need of physiotherapy or speech and language therapy currently face a postcode lottery, with massive variations in waiting times between different counties.

There are 706 people enduring a delay of over a year for physiotherapy, with the highest numbers in Limerick, Mayo and Galway suffering the longest waits.

But there is nobody waiting over a year in Roscommon Cork, and counties along the south-east.

"The figures highlight the postcode lottery when it comes to accessing therapies. We need major investment in primary care to tackle waiting lists," she added.

Regional differences have also emerged for people waiting for speech and language therapy, with 847 on lists for treatment for over 18 months.

There are some 553 people waiting over 18 months for treatment in Wexford and 89 in north Cork, but there are zero waiting this length of time in some other counties.

The figures, supplied by the HSE, highlight the massive numbers on waiting lists overall, with 28,597 on lists for physiotherapy alone.

Irish Independent

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