Urgent talks to save 300 jobs in western health region
AXING 300 health sector jobs will now be a "last resort" if HSE West and trade unions can succeed in hammering out a deal to address a €90m deficit in the next two weeks.
Plans to get rid of 300 contract workers in the western region and slash the working hours of hundreds more hospital staff had been unveiled by the HSE last night after weeks of intense speculation.
In all, the drastic cutbacks could amount to the equivalent of up to 1,000 job losses, health sector unions claimed at the Labour Relation Commission talks in Galway.
But the HSE West and workers' unions such as Impact, Siptu and the Irish Nurses' Organisation last night agreed to spend the next two weeks trying to establish a range of cost-saving measures instead.
SIPTU spokesman Paul Bell said all cost-saving areas would be examined but that the issue of job cuts would only arise "further down the road" if they could not drum up enough savings.
The first items to be looked at will include non-pay savings -- reduced hours, career breaks, unpaid leave, flexibility in the reallocation of staff and phasing out expenditure on agency staff where possible.
"What we've agreed in principle is that every cost-saving option has to be sweated out first -- only then would we look at affecting anyone in employment. We will be resisting the notion of dismissing anyone from their job," Mr Bell said.
The next round of local talks, starting on Tuesday, will see hospital representatives from Donegal to Limerick discussing the preliminary list of cost-saving options available to them.
Unions last night claimed they had also secured an agreement from the HSE to phase out the use of agency workers which are costing more than €10m in the region every year.
However, there was still "serious concern" about plans to reduce home help hours by 10pc in the Galway and Mayo areas, Mr Bell said.
Both sides have until August 30 to agree a package of measures to address the €90m deficit.
The HSE's cost-saving package includes proposals to close a children's residential service, health centres and home help services, and to downsize hospitals.
The plans also include a reduction of 255 temporary contract staff from community services in Donegal, including 92 nurses, and the loss of at least four temporary consultant staff at Galway University Hospital.
On top of that there are plans to close 27 beds at Mayo General Hospital and reduce beds in mental health services.
Independent TD Noel Grealish has already warned he could withdraw his support for the Government if cuts to the HSE West's budget go ahead.
Labour's health spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan last night called on all TDs in the west to take a stand against the "destruction" of health services.
All eyes are now on TDs such as Dr Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon who resigned from the Fianna Fail parliamentary party last year over cuts to breast cancer services at Sligo General Hospital.
If they were to break ranks when the Dail returns, they would put Taoiseach Brian Cowen's already slim majority under huge strain.
Last night, Mr Scanlon said he was seeking an urgent meeting with the local HSE manager.