State watchdog savages HSE over jobs embargo
THE Government's own troubleshooting body has launched a stinging attack on the Health Service Executive (HSE) over the way it imposed cutbacks to tackle its massive €245m budget overrun.
The National Implementation Body (NIB) said the temporary ban on recruitment, imposed by the HSE earlier this month, as well as tough cost-cutting measures, was introduced without consultation and was in clear breach of the latest social partnership agreement Towards 2016.
Last night, SIPTU's national nursing council warmly endorsed the NIB ruling, and other unions warned that the HSE cutbacks could ultimately result in protests and work stoppages.
The warning came as both Health Minister Mary Harney and HSE boss Prof Brendan Drumm faced mounting criticism yesterday over the cutbacks which have already resulted in Ennis General Hospital axing 24-hour A&E operations and Sligo General Hospital cutting almost 40 medical staff.
One Sligo surgeon was so infuriated that he rang RTE's Liveline show to claim it was "preposterous" to suggest the job cuts would not impact on patient care. Consultant Tim Hanrahan, said he was "lost for words" after hearing Minister Harney's assurances about Sligo.
"Patients will be slower to be diagnosed and slower to be treated. Don't tell me that less people doing more work will make it safer for people. I find it quite unbelievable," he warned.
Fine Gael furiously attacked the Government over the cutbacks, with Health Spokesman James Reilly claiming that pre-General Election "lies" about medical services were now being exposed.
"When it comes to health services their incompetence is only surpassed by their economy with the truth. Since the return of Fianna Fail and the PDs to Government, the exposure of big lies about health have completely undermined any credibility they might have had," he declared.
Minister Harney vehemently disputed claims that patient services will be hit in both Sligo or Ennis where cutbacks have been enforced to comply with HSE budgetary warnings.
But , in a signal of mounting Coalition unease over the cutbacks, Junior Health Minister Jimmy Devins warned yesterday he was "very uncomfortable" with the Sligo decision.
"I've been in touch with many of the staff in Sligo General Hospital and they inform me that it will interfere with patient care," he said.
However, Minister Harney bluntly denied that patient services will be hit by the HSE cost-cutting. "I just don't accept that is the case. Clearly I don't want to see patient services or front-line activities in any way curtailed," she said.
"This year there will be almost €15bn spent on healthcare -- that is almost five times more than we were spending a decade ago. The HSE must live within its budget. There is no question of a supplementary estimate or going back to the taxpayer looking for more. The budget has to be managed appropriately," she said.
Minister Harney pointed out that Ireland is now spending 8.9pc of GNP, which is the OECD average, despite the fact that Ireland's population is much younger than that of either Germany or France.
"We are spending more on health that most other countries -- we just have to do a lot better. That is why the reform agenda is so important," she said.
Prof Drumm repeated his warning last night that hospitals must live within their allocated budgets as he stressed that the Irish health service could not be run like there was "a bottomless pit of money".
"We are taking the tough decisions but the tough decisions are forcing a certain bite in the system.
"We have to stand up and deliver for the public. Nobody in the system can over-spend -- it is as simple as that. It is up to every hospital up and down the country to work within their budget," he added.
"We manage a financial budget of over €12,000m -- I am personally responsible for that budget. The health services have been given that money by the taxpayers of Ireland -- every man and woman in the street who is paying taxes, they are taking 25c of every €1 they pay to provide that service," he said.
Minister Harney and Prof. Drumm were speaking in Cork at the opening of the €75m maternity hospital.
The NIB stressed that both the HSE and health unions should engage immediately to discuss the difficulties and hammer out a co-operative plan to deal with the challenges ahead.
The NIB said that, if necessary, both sides should consider using the Labour Relations Commission.