HSE chief overseeing €130m cutbacks defends pay hike
THE new HSE chief yesterday defended his €30,000 salary hike as Health Minister James Reilly signalled the Government should look again at public service pay.
Tony O'Brien, who previously earned €165,000 as a health official, before taking over as Health Service Executive director general designate recently, is to be paid €195,000.
Asked if it sent out the wrong message when he is overseeing €130m in health cuts, affecting many elderly and the disabled, Mr O'Brien said the salary figure was a matter for the Government and it was less than his predecessor earned.
He was speaking as Dr Reilly insisted the €700m in cuts that will be needed in the health service next year may not be achievable without re-negotiation of the Croke Park agreement, which protects pay.
He added: "Pay is the elephant in the room. If 70pc of my budget is pay -- and up to 90pc in some of the non-governmental organisations -- the point comes when you have to look at pay or start cutting services."
He said he wanted all elements outside of core pay examined first, including overtime rates and absenteeism.
A spokeswoman for Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin would not be drawn on re-negotiating the deal but pointedly said it was Dr Reilly's decision not to cut hospital consultants' pay and look for flexibilities instead.
Dr Reilly spoke to reporters outside the Department of Health in Dublin after he was criticised for his absence from the announcement of the draconian cuts by HSE executives on Thursday.
The cuts include 600,000 less home-help hours, a reduction in 200 home-care packages a month and a €35m cut in spending on agency staff and overtime, which will lead to hospital bed closures.
"I have a categoric assurance that (home-help) services will be maintained and this should be achievable in the main through more efficiency," Dr Reilly said.
Questioned about proposals to send some patients home at weekends if wards are closed due to understaffing, Dr Reilly said: "I always thought it was nonsense in the past to have people sitting in a bed from Monday to Friday for an MRI scan when they could go home and come in for it on the Friday.
"No patient who is seriously compromised and needs hospital care will be sent home at weekends."