HSE seeks to restart talks on reform

Wed, Dec 9, 2009, 00:00

THE HEALTH Service Executive (HSE) wants to re-engage in talks with trade unions about implementing a reform plan which was agreed in principle before the collapse of talks between the Government and unions on reducing public sector pay last week.

In a letter to staff yesterday, the HSE’s national director of human resources, Seán McGrath, said despite the conclusion of talks last week, its priorities had not changed.

“Over the coming weeks, I will be seeking to re-engage with the trade unions in order that we can proceed with the ‘agreed’ vision and implement in a pragmatic way, the changes that we collectively believed, only last Friday, were required,” he said.

The draft deal provided for an extended working day spanning 8am to 8pm and the introduction of five-over-seven-day rostering.

However, the unions have warned that co-operation with the Government’s change agenda came to an end when the Cabinet decided to reject their alternative plan for reducing the public sector pay bill by the controversial unpaid leave arrangement in 2010 and a major transformation programme in subsequent years.

Secretary of the health group of unions Kevin Callinan of Impact yesterday strongly rejected the possibility of an agreement on health reform in isolation.

“The trade unions responded to the Government’s declared vision of a smaller public service. In return for guarantees on job security, pay and pensions we explored with you and the other employer representatives the possibility of a radical approach that would have transformed services and would have saved billions.

“Last Friday, the Government walked away from this opportunity. The notion that you or the HSE – the board of which is comprised of appointees of this same Government – would expect that agreement might now be possible on one part of the discussions while pay cuts proceed and threats to jobs and pensions remain is naive to put it at its most kind,” he said.

In his letter, Mr McGrath said that in the talks last week, management and health sector unions had agreed that despite the fall in the number of staff as a result of the moratorium on public sector numbers, the size of the population accessing the public health system would continue to grow over the coming years, as would the incidence of various chronic diseases.

“The imperative for both sides was therefore to find ways to maintain service levels with less inputs,” he added.

“One way we agreed that this could be done is to reduce significantly the number of in-patient beds while increasing the number of patients who can access services on a day-case basis in hospitals and avoid attending hospitals by receiving appropriate services in the community through primary care teams. These changes are not only significant but necessary to sustain a public health system in challenging times.

“The introduction of an extended working day, coupled with the redeployment of staff to day wards, would facilitate a major increase in the number of day-case procedures, a significant increase in outpatient clinics and allow for faster access to diagnostic services. It would also facilitate a concentration of non-emergency acute services over Monday to Friday, while continuing to deal with emergency cases on a 24-hour, seven-day basis,” he said.

Mr McGrath said the introduction of five-over-seven-day rosters in the community setting, among other areas, would enable planned nursing and other healthcare services to be provided to patients and clients at the weekends.