HSE ban on agency staff in northeast 'putting lives at risk'
PROPOSALS BY the HSE to cut the equivalent of 75 full-time nursing jobs in hospitals across Louth and Meath as a result of banning agency staff will “put lives at risk and there is no doubt it will cause significant harm”, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
Its spokesman, Tony Fitzpatrick, confirmed that all unions were briefed by management yesterday “on what was put to us as a proposal but it is for implementation by next Monday”.
Speaking after officials from a number of unions were of the view that what was proposed was in breach of the Croke Park agreement, Mr Fitzpatrick said he was asking that the Health Services National Implementation Body intervene.
“All trade unions believe it is in breach of the agreement; there has been inadequate time for engagement and consultation. It will have a dramatic impact,” he said.
The HSE last week said it was conducting risk assessments on the impact of reducing agency staff and overtime; the HSE in the northeast has been told to “eliminate” all such costs.
Mr Fitzpatrick said the cutbacks would result in the loss of the equivalent of 75 full-time nursing staff across the hospitals in Louth and Meath. The bulk of them, 52, will be at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
Nursing staff on the gynaecology ward in Drogheda were told last week that it would be closing and merging with the maternity unit.
However, the HSE said “no decision” had yet been made about the ward.
It has 15 beds, including two for emergencies such as women who are miscarrying.
Mr Fitzpatrick said “officially they may say there are no plans to close the beds, but I am 100 per cent certain it will be impacted on”.
He said the HSE was proposing to close 16 beds in Drogheda, including one in the critical care unit.
There are plans to close 24 beds in Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, and the patients will instead be transferred to a private nursing home.
Some nine beds are also to close in Navan, the unions were told.
The possible closure of the gynaecology ward in Drogheda could mean that women who have miscarried could be in a bed beside women who have just given birth, according to Senator Thomas Byrne.
The cutbacks come as the HSE appears on track to have a budget overrun of an estimated €500 million by the end of the year.
The HSE last night said that “overtime will not be permitted in all professions except NCHDs from September 1st”, and that from December 1st the use of agency staff “will not be permitted”.
Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd, a Fine Gael TD for Louth, said: “I have written to management at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital requesting clarification on whether the HSE’s risk-management department are satisfied that there is no increase in medical or other risks to patients with acute needs as a result of proposed staffing changes at the hospital.”