A helpless giant, tied up and made powerless by all the little people
THE HSE is an employment giant. It provides almost 110,000 full-time jobs but the true number of workers is closer to 130,000 when those on part-time and job-sharing agreements are taken into account.
But in some ways it is a helpless giant, tied up and trapped like Jonathan Swift's Gulliver after being washed ashore on Lilliput.
That's because it doesn't have the power to move its staff around. If there is a nurse in a hospital who could be better used in the community, that can only happen with the voluntary agreement of that nurse.
The HSE's spend on rehiring retired staff (€7m in 2007 and €13.7m in 2008) is a symptom of this problem.
Imagine if Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was banned from redeploying his resources during an injury crisis -- he wouldn't have been allowed to put midfielder Michael Carrick playing at centre-half instead of Rio Ferdinand.
HSE director of human resources Sean McGrath was behind a demand to have staff move to new locations up to 60km away -- which was up for discussion until the pay talks collapsed last month.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr McGrath admitted the HSE had to take distance into account. "You can't expect someone in Sligo to go every day to Galway," he said.
But he said there were successful examples of voluntary redeployment -- such as the movement of staff from all around Dublin to the "very successful" primary care centre in Irishtown.
But look at the difficulties the HSE experienced when staff refused to move voluntarily to its centralised medical card applications processing centre in Finglas.
The redeployment logjam is also affecting attempts to move more of the 50,000 staff based in hospitals to join the 50,000 staff working in primary care centres.
The health unions are in no mood to co-operate with redeployment after two pay cutsb in one year.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation recently announced that its 40,000 members in the HSE would not co-operate with any redeployment as part of "phase one" of their industrial relations campaign. It's not hard to see why health workers are unwilling to give more when their ultimate employer, the Government, is taking away.
But the Government knew about the problem -- and did nothing about it until it was far too late.
The need for such a redeployment agreement is now greater than ever because the health budget is being cut -- and there is no longer the same money to fill the gaps with re-hired retired staff.
In 'Gulliver's Travels', the eponymous hero managed to cast off the ropes tied onto him by people who were one-twelfth the size of a normal human. He escaped from Lilliput on a boat with the help of a friend. But with no sign of a redeployment agreement who is going to rescue the HSE?