Sunday 19 November 2017

One HSE worker on leave was paid €1.3m in 14 years

Edel Kennedy

HEALTH chiefs have launched a new "crackdown" on staff absenteeism -- but the details are being kept secret.

Despite repeated questions to the HSE and Department of Health, neither would explain what new procedures were being put in place to cut the numbers who are failing to turn up for work.

It comes as the HSE admitted that absenteeism was set to cost the service €230m this year.

Figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal the huge extent of the problem, with statistics showing that long-term leave -- of six months or more -- has escalated in recent years.

A total of €17.47m has been paid to staff on leave of six months or more since 1996. The majority of workers were on sick leave, or on leave as a result of a work injury, while a number are on administrative leave while an investigation is being carried out into their conduct.

The figures show:

• One worker was on leave from 1996 to 2010 and was paid more than €1.3m in that time. The worker is now back at work in another area of the HSE.

• A mental health nurse has been on paid leave since 1996 as a result of a work injury. The worker has been paid almost €325,000 in that time.

• A second mental health nurse has been paid almost €380,000 since suffering an injury in work in 1997.

• A social work team leader has been on full pay of over €65,000 per year since December 2008 after being placed on administrative leave.

• A medical social worker has been paid over €260,000 since being placed on administrative leave in July 2007.

The HSE initially sought a fee of over €6,000 when asked to release the figures under the Freedom of Information Act. However, they later released them free of charge.

Figures released earlier this year showed that more than 5,000 health service staff called in sick each day. The absenteeism rate of 4.9pc cost €225m last year.

And this year it is estimated that the cost of absenteeism will rise to €230m.

Absenteeism rates climbed to an average of 4.98pc last year among the HSE's staff of 104,000. This compared with a rate of 4.8pc in 2010. A rate of 4.8pc would see staff who have six weeks' holidays miss an average of 11 days per year.

Health Minister James Reilly had pledged that cutting down on sick days was a major priority of his office and a cornerstone of the Croke Park deal.

But the secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding Dr Reilly's "action plan" has raised serious questions about whether it will have any impact on the high level of absenteeism in the health service.

The Department of Health said new action plans had been put in place in every hospital that had a rate of absenteeism higher than 3.5pc.

It referred to a Managing Attendance document -- but this document is now two years old.

They also referred to monitoring rates of absence, reducing pay and sending staff for a medical exam. However, all of these steps have been in place for some time and are not new measures.

Irish Independent

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