WorkCantillon

HSE fails most basic test for an employer

Can it be beyond the wit of a bureaucratic behemoth like our health service to run a basic payroll system?

There are certain minimum expectations that any employee should have of an employer. One is timely notification of when they are working and what their duties are and the second is that they have confidence of being paid in full and on time.

Everyone has to budget, not just corporations. Most people specifically time their big monthly bills — things like mortgage payments — for the days after they are paid so they can be confident the money will be there to meet these essential expenditures.

The admission by the Health Service Executive that it cannot reliably deliver such a basic service to staff, many of whom work under the most stressful of conditions is unacceptable. If it were any private corporation such news would be sufficient to threaten investor and stakeholder confidence, ensure an exodus of key employees and the potential collapse of the business.

The HSE is already struggling to attract and retain the staff it needs. Failing to pay them on time is just asking for trouble. Worse, the mutterings across the HSE are that this is not a once-off issue but a regular occurrence with the six-monthly cycle where young doctors move hospitals as part of their training.

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The root of the problem is that the HSE has no central payroll system and an archaic structure that tolerates a multiplicity of pay structures across its various operations. In many ways, it is reflective of the issues that prevent the HSE from operating in line with any basic business norms of efficiency, innovation and fiscal prudence, issues that no one seems willing and/or able to address.

It is now 17 years since then HSE chief Brendan Drumm pulled the plug on the further rollout of the Personnel, Payroll and Related Systems (Ppars), the most recent effort at a centralised payroll in the HSE, as costs ballooned from an initial estimate of €9 million. Ultimately the Ppars system, first commissioned in 2009, cost well in excess of €220 million and manages the pay of just a small fraction of the HSE’s staff.

In 2022, global corporations manage to pay staff in multiple jurisdictions involving very different legal systems, tax codes, work practices and pay structures and have done so for many years. Technology has moved on dramatically over the past 17 years; it is well past time that the HSE caught up and treated their staff with the very minimum of respect they deserve.