Hospital charges staff 50c for cup of boiling water
STAFF at a busy hospital are being forced to bring flasks to work to avoid paying a 50c charge every time they boil a cup of water.
The Health Service Executive introduced the charge for hot water at the canteen of Kerry General Hospital (KGH) in Tralee because members of staff were bringing their own tea bags to work so that they wouldn't have to pay for cups of tea.
But if a member of staff has four cups of tea at work every day, they end up paying €10 every week or €500 a year.
SIPTU said the charges apply to all staff who use the canteen facilities – these include medical, porters, kitchen staff, office workers, care assistants, maintenance and support staff.
It said they have seen cuts to their wages, with some earning salaries starting at less than €25,000 a year.
It has also emerged that a similar charge has been introduced at Killarney Community Hospital in the past two weeks, though this was reduced from 40c per cup to 10c on Tuesday.
Enquiries to the HSE in other parts of the country have yet to reveal other hospitals charging for boiled water.
A spokesman for the HSE South said the charges were introduced at KGH more than two years ago and applied only to the staff canteen.
But they only came to light in the same week that it has emerged that some senior hospital executives are being paid generous top-ups on their salaries.
SIPTU organiser Donie Doody told the Irish Independent a private canteen for staff at Killarney Community Hospital, where they had access to a kettle and other facilities, was closed.
"They're all being diverted to the main canteen now, and the facility that was there for them has been taken away.
"All staff at the hospital are the same regardless of what department they're working in.
"This was introduced without any discussion with the unions and staff are very disillusioned with the whole thing, especially in light of what has come out about payments to senior management," Mr Doody added.
Another SIPTU official, Ted Kenny, said he was aware of staff who were bringing flasks to work since the charges were imposed.
He said many of the workers he represented were among the lowest-paid in the health sector and could not afford to pay for water.
"They are understaffed. They are working a lot harder and they are put to the pin of their collar trying to provide a service to the public and to the patients they deal with."
A HSE statement said: "It (the charge) was introduced to curtail an emerging trend whereby staff were bringing their own tea and coffee into the canteen in an effort to avoid paying the 65c subsidised charge for a cup of tea or coffee.
"The charge only applies in the canteen as it is provided to ensure people have access to food and beverages."
The statement added that the charge was being reviewed annually as part of the normal price review within the catering department.