Extended working by health staff withdrawn


PLANS BY health service management to require staff to work longer hours were withdrawn shortly before a meeting with trade unions last week.

The Irish Times understands that proposals for staff to work two additional hours a week were among those presented to a meeting of Health Service Executive management last Tuesday.

However, the plans for additional hours were not among those tabled to trade unions when they met health service management on Wednesday.

When asked about the withdrawal of overtures for additional working hours, and on whether it had been involved in the move, the Department of Health did not answer the question.

Instead it issued a statement: “A document was prepared by the HSE and the Department of Health which formed the basis of discussions with health service unions last Wednesday. The document reflected the relevant inputs from the department on a policy basis and the HSE in respect of operational issues.”

The intended changes set out by health service management on Wednesday were the first to emerge in the public service since Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wanted to see the Croke Park agreement “squeezed” to generate additional savings.

There had been an expectation on the part of some union leaders that management would ask staff to work additional hours as part of this intensification of the Croke Park process. However, unions were prepared to reject any such proposal as being outside the scope of the agreement. Union leaders were also expected to argue that any move on increased working hours could not be discussed on a sectoral basis.

There is a growing view among some union leaders that working hours will be a key issue in any revised Croke Park agreement that may be negotiated in the months ahead. The existing deal expires in 2014.

At the meeting on Wednesday management said the health service was facing further cuts of about €1 billion in funding in 2013-14, while staff numbers would be cut by a further 6,500.

Management said that to deal with this situation “demonstrable changes” would be needed to attendance patterns, clinical and non-clinical work practices and reporting relationships.

Among the changes proposed by management were benchmarking the staffing levels in place in care-for-the-elderly facilities in the Republic with those in the North. It said it also wanted to examine rosters in place for acute nursing and care staff.

Management said there should be a reduction in the hours of non-consultant hospital doctors to ensure further compliance with a European directive on working hours. It also said “skill mix options” should be maximised at every point of service delivery and that there should be greater redeployment of staff on foot of new shared-service initiatives. It proposed that this could include a human resources service to cater for the HSE and agencies it funds.

A document given to the unions said there would be reduction in numbers of management grades.

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