Reilly says public service pay issue must be addressed

Fri, Aug 31, 2012, 01:00

Minister for Health James Reilly has signalled the Government should look at the issue of public service pay – which is guaranteed under the Croke Park agreement - in tackling its financial difficulties.

Speaking this afternoon, Dr Reilly said the Croke Park agreement had to be expanded to deal with the financial problems facing the health service.

Dr Reilly suggested that those who were among the best paid in the public service should have to shoulder some of the burden.

Pay was the “elephant in the room”, he said.

“If 70 per cent of my budget is pay and up to 90 per cent in some of the NGOS, the point comes when you have to look at pay or start cutting patient services,” he said.

“As a doctor or as a Minister, I want to see patients and patient services protected.”

Asked whether he believed the Croke Park agreement - which guarantees there will be no further pay cuts in the public service in return for agreement on reforms - should be renegotiated, he said: “I want all the elements outside of core pay explored first, like I said, overtime rates, agency staff use -- which both relate to absenteeism it has to be addressed.”

He said there was “absolutely no doubt” the agreement had to be expanded to address the issues faced by the health service.

“You can’t make savings without addressing that issue. But that is a broader issue than health,” he said. “It is an issue…that the Government has to consider and it is not for me to decide. It has to be done in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.”

In his first public comments on the €130 million cuts to be implemented by the HSE, the Minister said he wanted to give a categorical assurance that everything would be done to ensure patient services were maintained.

He said he had asked the HSE director general designate Tony O’Brien for all non- clinical areas to be examined and “squeezed as hard as possible” in relation to making savings.

“The last thing that should suffer is patient services,” Dr Reilly said.

Dr Reilly said he wanted the “glaring problem” of absenteeism tackled.

He said the average absenteeism rate in private sector was 2.58 per cent, compared to double that figure in the public sector. In some hospitals, he said, it is three times that level in some hospitals, rising to 10 per cent in specific grades in some hospitals.

“I want that addressed. I do not see why patients should suffer because of mismanagement of absenteeism.”

He said he was going to publish details of the rate of absenteeism by grade and by profession in each area on the internet. “I intend now to publish each grade’s sick leave across hospital and community care and I’m going to be talking to NGOs about their sick leave and absenteeism as well.”

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