Contracts for nurses re-ignite row over retirees
'Immoral' set-up denies hundreds of graduates jobs, says association
NURSES who retired on full pensions are back working in the health service on contracts, re-igniting the row over retired public servants taking jobs away from unemployed graduates.
More than 360 retired nurses earned a total of €8.1m working across the health service in 2008 at a time when hundreds of newly qualified nurses were unemployed. And in one Dublin psychiatric hospital, St Brendan's in Grangegorman, up to 15 retired nurses are currently working on short-term contracts.
The practice of hiring retired health employees on a part-time basis is not restricted to nursing. In 2008, the HSE paid €13.7m to retired staff for "services", according to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Health sources say the practice has increased since then because the moratorium on hiring new staff has forced health services to rely on part-time workers and on overtime.
The Psychiatric Nurses' Association (PNA) has called for a halt to the practice, saying that it is denying hundreds of young graduates much needed employment in a time of recession. Des Kavanagh, chairman of the PNA, said it was "immoral" to be employing "people who worked their service, have got their pension lump sum . . . rather than employ those recently qualified. It doesn't make sense".
The rise of the grey army has been fuelled by the recruitment ban and exacerbated by further budgetary constraints on overtime.
Hundreds of vacant posts in nursing cannot be filled and health services have been using agency nurses and overtime to fill the gaps. Due to even harsher financial constraints this year, managers at some hospitals are bringing back retired nursing staff to fill the posts at a cheaper rate than agency nurses. The problem is particularly acute in mental heath services, where the depletion of nursing staff has been accelerated. Psychiatric nurses who were hired before 2004 can retire at 55 because of the physical demands of their job, unlike other nurses.
St Brendan's Hospital said it had no choice but to hire retired staff on a short-term basis because of the paucity of suitable nursing graduates in the area. But Des Kavanagh said there was a lot of intense anger among staff at the hospital because "they have young people who are having difficulties getting assurances about any future employment, yet, at the same time, they are depending on retired nurses who already have their full pensions".
"Our first concern is that we want all younger people who are qualified employed. They are the ones with new education, new knowledge and can bring a new vitality to the service that is changing rapidly," he said.
Last year, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe urged schools to put young graduates before retired teachers when hiring substitutes, after it emerged that 2000 teachers already on full pensions were paid to fill part-time posts.