Friday 28 July 2017

€180,000 each day for 'doing nothing'

1,000 surplus HSE staff still employed as cuts hit children

Michael Brennan and Fionnan Sheahan

UP to 1,000 surplus HSE staff are still being paid €180,000 a day although they have no work to do.

The staff are costing an estimated €67m a year in salaries at a time when resources are so stretched that crucial health services are being slashed.

Among the HSE staff targeted were around 200 of its middle managers who earn salaries of up to €83,000. Their numbers have increased from just 10 in 2000 to more than 700 now.

The €67m-a-year cost contrasts sharply with the impact of swingeing cuts at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin.

The hospital has been at the centre of a recent bitter row between management and HSE chief Prof Brendan Drumm.

The issue of children waiting for critical operations has become central to the entire value-for-money public service debate.

Plans to shed the HSE jobs have collapsed.

An early retirement plan has stalled due to a dispute with unions who are concerned about the redeployment of those left behind.

New figures show that just 150 of the HSE's 111,000 staff (0.1pc) have applied for the early retirement scheme, career breaks or shorter working years that were announced in the emergency Budget.

And the latest figures come as it emerged that the An Bord Snip Nua report may now be published within a matter of days. There is a growing anxiety within government to get the controversial report out as fast as possible.

A senior government source said: "If not Wednesday, then Thursday or Friday -- possibly. Once it goes to Cabinet, that's it. It will be presented as this is what the country needs to do and it needs strong government."

Against that background the fact that there has been virtually nothing done to reduce the public service bill takes on a critical relevance.

The HSE's initial plan for 1,000 voluntary redundancies was put on hold earlier this year due to the estimated €300m cost of providing payments for departing staff. The Department of Finance then announced the early retirement, shorter working year and career-break schemes from the emergency Budget last April would be rolled out instead.

But health service unions decided not to co-operate with the scheme in the absence of an agreement on how staff remaining behind would be re-deployed.

Both the HSE and the Department of Health have emphasised that staff must be flexible about taking on new responsibilities because staff who leave under the schemes will not be replaced.

The IMPACT trade union said it wanted a national framework that would put safeguards in place for staff.

"We obviously don't want a situation where someone in south Dublin is told they are being redeployed to Inishowen (in Donegal) because clearly that would be nonsensical and unfair," a spokesman said.

However, IMPACT said it accepted its members would have to work harder and be more flexible.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly that health workers had rights and should not have to make "unreasonable moves".

But there could be no question of extra payments for being redeployed, he said.

Labour health spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said there was an urgent need to engage with the unions to get the scheme up and running.

"Hiding behind unions is not good enough. I firmly believe there is a need to take out the layers of management in the HSE as quickly as possible," she said.

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