THREE health staff who were sacked for absenteeism are trying to get their jobs back as nearly 5,000 workers are failing to turn up to hospitals and other agencies daily.
The grades and professions of the three staff have not been disclosed but they lost their jobs for "persistent absenteeism", the Irish Independent has learnt.
They are among eight former health employees who are challenging their sacking at the Health Service Executive's (HSE) Dismissal Appeals Committee.
The disclosure comes as figures reveal that absenteeism levels in the health service soared during one of the warmest summers on record.
Nearly one-third of the workforce was on sick leave every day during August in the HSE's administrative office for Dublin and Midlands hospitals.
And more than one in 10 of the workforce in the south eastern ambulance service, as well as the Children's Sunshine Home in Dublin, were absent.
Sick leave rates are running at more than a third above target but for some hospitals they can quadruple for certain grades of staff.
The overall absenteeism target is 3.5pc but the national rates were as high as 4.83pc in August and are at a staggering 4.73pc for the first nine months of the year.
More staff were out on sick leave in sunny August than in chilly January, traditionally the worst month due to the colds and flu season.
A spokeswoman insisted that 91.92pc of absenteeism in August was medically certified, "showing an upward trend since late 2012 when changes to self-certified leave were introduced".
She said that absenteeism in the health service had "significantly reduced" since 2008 when it reached an alarming level of 6.89pc.
However, the levels of daily no-shows in the health service contrast with absenteeism rates in private industry, which stand at 2.5pc.
The HSE said: "Clearly in any employment there will always be staff that are unfit to come to work due to illness or injury. The nature of much of health service activity could not countenance staff coming into the work-place if they are ill or injured."
However, it could not explain why so many office-based staff in particular have such high levels of non-attendance throughout the year.
Those working in the provision of medical and dental services have had consistently low levels of absenteeism while categories such as management, administration and general support staff have remained consistently high.
The knock-on effects are lost productivity and a higher bill for agency staff who have to be employed to maintain vital services. The cost of agency staff in the HSE rose to €23.6m in August, up from €20.8m in June.
The HSE is maintaining the 3.5pc target for 2014. A memo to management points out that from January 2014 there will be significant changes to the paid sick leave arrangements.
In the main, they will see a halving of paid sick leave arrangement from previous schemes, on foot of an engagement with public sector unions in 2012.
The memo said the HSE was continuing to review its current sick-leave policies and procedures as well as further developing a range of current supports and interventions to address challenges being encountered in the whole area of attendance management and absenteeism through ill health.
It has "strengthened its management of absenteeism through a variety of actions as set out below and continues to closely monitor" how effective they are.
It is also trying to improve the well-being, welfare and attendance of staff and recent developments include training for occupational health professionals in cognitive behaviour therapy, and a new pre-employment health assessment form.
A complete review of the managing attendance policy and procedure is also to be carried out to try to reduce absenteeism rates.