Varadkar says cutting 700 health staff a month not possible

Minister says meeting Government targets would require compulsory redundancies

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: said savings could “sometimes be illusory. If you then end up plugging gaps in the service through agency staff, it can actually cost more in some cases”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: said savings could “sometimes be illusory. If you then end up plugging gaps in the service through agency staff, it can actually cost more in some cases”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

 

The health service will not be able to meet targets set by the Government to reduce staffing levels, said Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

He said whether or not the HSE wanted to cut whole-time equivalent (WTE) staffing levels to 94,209 by the end of the year, sought under the Government’s employment control framework, it would not be practical.

He said the only way the HSE could cut staff by 700 a month between now and the end of the year would be through compulsory redundancies. He said this was ruled out under the Haddington Road agreement.

The Irish Times reported yesterday that the HSE was facing having to reduce staff by more than 2,000 before the end of the year if it was to meet the Government’s targets.

In a statement last weekend the HSE said: “As the health services are 2,669 WTEs above this employment target, to meet this target by year-end would require reductions of the order of 700 WTEs per month over the remaining months of 2014. This is based on the July census and further planned recruitment to year-end.”

The Department of Health indicated that moves to combine individual hospitals around the country into groups, and the planned transition to community trusts, could facilitate a new round of voluntary redundancies.

Yesterday Mr Varadkar said one thing that needed to be borne in mind when considering reducing staff numbers was that savings could “sometimes be illusory. If you then end up plugging gaps in the service through agency staff, it can actually cost more in some cases.”

He said it was sometimes forgotten that the number of staff in the HSE had been cut by about 15,000 in recent years. However, he said there had been an increase in doctors .

The secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin said there were some wider public-service reasons why the numbers of health staff had not reduced as planned. He said a deadline for allowing public service staff to retire with pensions based on pre-Haddington Road agreement salary levels had been deferred until next year.

The trade union Siptu criticised suggestion of further staffing cuts.

The Department of Health said there were a number of measures available to health service management to reduce staff. These include the graduate nurse initiative, the support staff intern scheme and the 5.2 million additional employee hours made available to the HSE due to increased working hours under the Haddington Road agreement.

The comments by the department about the use of the support staff intern scheme to facilitate the reduction comes at a time when industrial action is being considered by Siptu over how the programme is being implemented in some hospitals.

Siptu is conducting ballots among staff, such as porters and household and catering personnel, in certain hospitals for “protective strike action” over what it says are plans to displace its members from existing roster arrangements. The union fears its members could lose out on work at weekends if duties were assigned to interns.