Monday 19 August 2019

Harris blindsided by letter freezing HSE recruitment amid 'financial pressures'

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Laura Larkin and Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris was blindsided by a letter detailing a virtual recruitment freeze in the HSE.

A letter detailing a plan to stall recruitment and overtime for a three-month period was obtained by Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly.

The Tipperary TD said the fact the minister was not aware of the letter was "amazing". He spoke with the minister yesterday who confirmed he was not aware of the letter.

In the letter, Liam Woods, the HSE deputy director general and chief operations officer, informed management of hospital groups that recruitment and overtime is being stalled.

It is based on "financial pressure in the system arising from the high levels of recruitment in 2018 and the consequential impact in 2019 and the need to live within the resources".

Only development posts for new and expanded services will be exempted but all other recruitment will pause.

However, the embattled health minister spoke with the HSE yesterday and said he was assured "recruitment restrictions will not be introduced unless hospital managers fail to outline their budget plans".

"Health managers need to submit recruitment plans and credible plans will be supported. Groups that do not submit such plans need to be scrutinised," said Mr Harris. "We allocated a €16bn budget to the health service and it is important that budgets are adhered to."

The Fine Gael minister insisted the service plan for this year provides for recruitment across the health service.

"We have increased the number of nurses, doctors and therapists every year. That will continue this year," he said.

Cost

The Department of Public Expenditure last year warned levels of recruitment in the health service - running at 371 staff per month - were not sustainable when combined with the ongoing cost of pay deals and other health service pressures such the cost of drugs.

That review suggested staffing levels for doctors and nurses is back beyond the levels in place in 2009 when calculated per 1,000 of population.

A HSE spokeswoman said yesterday it must comply with its statutory obligations and remain within its allocated budget.

Meanwhile, separate figures reveal the HSE has appointed more than one manager a week in the nine months between May last year and this February.

Managerial ranks - ranging from those in middle-ranking jobs up to the highest level of the HSE as national directors - rose significantly over that time, sparking fresh fears of excessive bureaucracy at the price of frontline care.

It meant there were 1,353 managers in the HSE in February compared with 1,299 at the end of May, according to Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly, who obtained the figures.

"You will be hard-pressed to find any other area of the health service where employment has grown at such a rate," he said.

Irish Independent

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