Eilish O'Regan: 'Recruitment freeze does little to inspire confidence'
The health service is still in a state of recovery after the blow of recession cuts - so what will this latest talk of a recruitment freeze mean for the patient?
It comes at a time when hospitals continue to struggle with the trolley crisis, and waiting lists for surgery and outpatient appointments force very ill people to endure gruelling delays.
The HSE is claiming this is a recruitment freeze with a difference - as soon as health managers produce an employment plan and an agreed recruitment budget for 2019, they can hire staff.
It all amounts to a reining-in of some kind on taking on new staff, but the HSE - which has record funding of €16bn - argues it has to keep control of costs.
It was €655m over budget last year and drew the ire of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for its perceived hiring "binge" in 2018.
A report last year found it was hiring 371 staff a month. But the budget for 2018 only provided for an extra 1,800 more staff, which would work out at 150 a month.
It claimed that staffing levels for doctors and nurses were beyond those in place in 2009 when calculated per 1,000 of population.
The public must be very confused at this point, given that they hear so often about the desperate search for frontline staff.
It is less than a week since the finer points of the new €37m deal to recruit and retain nurses was agreed.
And then there is the ongoing row with new entrant hospital consultants, whose pay is 30pc lower than longer-serving colleagues.
This is blamed for contributing to around 400 unfilled permanent medical posts. Hospitals are having to advertise some posts several times to try to attract suitable candidates.
Although there may be good management and financial logic behind the latest recruitment freeze or pause, it sends out mixed messages to luring those highly prized professionals to work here.
We thought we had left the days of the stop-start approach to recruitment behind.
The HSE's most recent employment report for February shows it has a workforce of 118,030, compared with 117,857 in December. The biggest increase was in hospital staff, but there was fall in health workers in the community.
Nursing staff saw the biggest rise, which is an important trend to continue if key areas of hospital services, including operating theatres, are to run fully to cater for patient demand.
The reality is that staff shortages in several areas of the service are affecting care, and they will not all be fixed overnight.
But recruitment freezes of any kind do little to inspire confidence, and can be a disincentive to our efforts in a competitive global market.