Nurses warn of strike as HSE stalls on expenses
PSYCHIATRIC nurses last night warned they were preparing to ballot for industrial action after health service bosses deferred payment of travel and subsistence claims to workers.
Junior Health Minister Roisin Shortall said she was "confident" the issue of HSE workers not getting paid their expenses until January would be resolved.
However, last night the HSE could not confirm workers would be paid the monies on time. The move would save the HSE, which has a shortfall of €300m for 2011, an estimated €15m.
Health service bosses are also considering partially deferring nursing home support payments under the Fair Deal scheme if the financial position worsens.
A spokeswoman for the HSE confirmed it had noted the comments of the minister and would engage with the Department of Finance and Health to manage "its working capital and cash position" to the end of this financial year.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) warned it was preparing to ballot workers for industrial action as they branded the HSE's decision "irresponsible".
Des Kavanagh, general secretary of the PNA, said they were hoping the HSE would make the "common sense" decision to pay the monies owned. He said nurses dependent on the monies before Christmas were "shocked and angered".
SIPTU stated it had been inundated with calls from "gravely distressed" workers.
A number of money-saving measures to ensure the HSE breaks even by the end of 2011 were raised by the National Director of Finance Liam Woods and supported by the board in October. The proposals to sanction the late payment of travel expenses were then green lit at a later meeting.
In the Dail yesterday, Ms Shortall said she was "confident" that the issue would be resolved.
"It's completely unacceptable that the HSE should seek to penalise the staff that have done the work, done the travel," she said.
Ms Shortall said the plan had not been signed off by the HSE board and had now been raised at the "highest level" in the HSE by the Department of Health.
She agreed with Labour Galway East TD Colm Keaveney, who complained that the HSE West alone was planning to write off €13m in unpaid debts from private insurers after 12 months.
She said it was possible for the HSE to collect the €15m it would save from not paying its staff travel expenses on time in another way.
"The question of private health insurance [is a] very good case in point. It's very hard to understand the tardiness of the HSE in pursuing those moneys that are owed," she said.
Labour Louth TD Ged Nash said it was a new low when the HSE effectively picked the pockets of its own staff.