HSE in crisis talks as staff threaten strike over cuts
TALKS were under way last night to avert a strike in the health service over plans to cut hundreds of contract staff.
Unions said there was "little progress" at negotiations with the Health Service Executive West, after it revealed it must slash costs or run up a €90m deficit.
SIPTU has threatened to ballot for industrial action because it fears up to 1,000 temporary contract jobs could be axed.
This figure was suggested in a HSE-commissioned report by independent consultants Mott and MacDonald on cost reduction strategies in the west.
There are roughly 4,000 workers on temporary contracts across the health service but sources said the plan not to renew contracts was a regional rather than national one.
Sources said the HSE told unions at the talks that the staff cuts it would seek could reduce its costs by up to €30m.
However, they said it gave little detail on the type of staff to be affected, or their location.
They said the HSE had also agreed to give IMPACT, SIPTU and the INMO a copy of the consultants' report on cost cuts at the Labour Relations Commission talks at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway.
The HSE said it was facing "one of the most financially challenging times" in the history of the health service and would be examining contracts.
A directive recently sent to HSE managers in the west by director of operations John Hennessy instructed them to substantially reduce temporary staff. The internal memo said they should "maximise" the reduction in their temporary staff numbers.
"What's very clear to all of us is that we face a major challenge between now and year-end to achieve the required budget breakeven out-turn," it said.
"A key component of our breakeven plan will be a substantial reduction in temporary staff."
Unions accused it of breaching the new Croke Park deal, claiming it was imposing compulsory redundancies.
The talks adjourned shortly after teatime and little progress was reported.
In opposition to cuts at the local hospital, a massive street protest is planned for Letterkenny this Saturday. Up to 120 staff positions at Letterkenny General Hospital are facing the axe as part of a raft of service cuts following revelations of a €12m budget deficit at the Co Donegal hospital.
Protesters are expected to take to the streets in their thousands next Saturday to protest over the pending cuts, which unions warn will impact on frontline services.
The 340-bed hospital -- which serves the needs of over 140,000 people in Donegal -- is also facing bed and possible ward closures, and reduced working hours for some staff to balance its books, just for this year. Bed closures have also been taking place at some of the county's community nursing homes.
SIPTU branch organiser Martin O'Rourke said that bed closures at nursing homes as a result of the ongoing recruitment embargo could ultimately lead to the closure of community nursing homes and the transfer of patients to private homes.
"If they don't put staff in, there is no choice but to close beds and that is what is happening," he said.
This morning, unions will meet with hospital management to discuss feared cuts to community hospitals and home support schemes while this afternoon a further meeting will take place to discuss planned cuts at Letterkenny General Hospital.
And on Saturday, people are being urged to turn out in their thousands on the streets of Letterkenny for a 'Save Donegal Health Care' march to protest at the cutbacks to health care in the county.
The march is being organised by an ad hoc group comprising of trade unions and groups representing different health care users.
"There is no room for any more tightening of belts. Any further cuts will result in longer waiting times and more pain. What is coming down the tracks is a tsunami. What will happen is that people will die and our message to our politicians is that Donegal people will not tolerate it," said Mr O'Rourke.
Joining Saturday's march will be protesters from Sligo where 60 beds are to close at Sligo General Hospital.