Saturday 10 December 2016

Hospital job freeze to save funds will cost lives, Harris is warned

Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: RollingNews.ie

A nearly complete freeze on the recruitment of doctors and nurses to hospitals will lead to more hardship for public patients and could "cost lives", the new Health Minister has been warned.

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It presents a grim start to the tenure of Health Minister Simon Harris, who was also told that home help and homecare packages are being slashed.

The HSE, which is severely in the red and facing a €500m overrun, confirmed that, with a few exceptions, all hospitals have been ordered to stop hiring staff until they have submitted a workforce plan, which then needs to be approved.

The move is a major setback as hospitals had been desperately trying to encourage specialists to apply for jobs here. They are struggling to cope with vacancies for around 300 doctors, with knock-on effects on patient treatments and safety.

The extent of the crisis facing the HSE is also revealed in an internal briefing document for Mr Harris, signalling cuts in services for the elderly and people with a disability.

It warns that home help hours and homecare packages must be chopped. These are vital to keep older people and those with a disability out of institutional care. However, Mr Harris was told starkly that, because of the 7.5pc rise in patients attending hospitals since January, it has been necessary to scale back these homecare supports or otherwise face an overrun in this area of €14.5m at the end of 2016.

Responding to the recruitment ban, Dave Hughes of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said it was an irresponsible act that would "cost lives", leaving hospitals unable to deliver safe care.

Dr John Duddy, president of the Irish Medical Organisation, warned: "Inevitably patients will continue to suffer in our emergency departments, face longer waiting lists and see their planned surgeries cancelled."

The HSE was unable to say how many posts will have to be put on hold. A spokesman said there would be specific exemptions for areas where funding was agreed in areas of critical care and emergency services.

"Staffing levels [at] the end of April 2016 are 3,616 greater than 2015 levels and have grown in-year by over 800."

The minister's briefing material contains no fresh thinking on how to reduce hospital waiting lists - and neglects to spell out that more than 500,000 are now in the queue for an outpatient clinic or surgery.

It details how the payout for the nursing home repayment scheme, due to a legislative error, has amounted to €452m paid to 20,300 people.

High Court compensation cases brought on behalf of children who developed narcolepsy after getting the swine flu vaccine are also on the horizon.

Narcolepsy is an incurable condition which causes people to fall asleep without warning.

The first court cases are due to come up on June 11.

Some 42 claims have been made and the Department has so far received 81 reports of children developing narcolepsy after getting the vaccine.

It is also facing a potential payout running into hundreds of millions of euro to hospital consultants who are taking action for recovery of a pay increase of about €25,000 a year they were denied from 2009.

There is no timetable in the document for the roll-out of universal health insurance.

Irish Independent

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