€130m HSE payroll system to be replaced


A HSE payroll system which ran hugely over-budget and eventually cost €130 million is to be replaced through outsourcing, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The PPARS system was never fully rolled out and is just one of eight payroll systems used in the health services, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee was told.

Tony O’Brien, HSE director general designate, said the Health Service Executive (HSE) was “not committed” to keeping payroll services inhouse. The problem at present was the multiplicity of systems rather than the inadequacy of any one of them. However, PPARS was not a realistic option at this time.

The HSE needed to focus on where to best spend resources in the context of falling staff numbers, said human resources director Barry O’Brien. Several hundred people people worked in payroll and these could be redeployed to frontline services if the service was outsourced.

The outsourcing of payroll operations will proceed by way of a tender process, according to a circular sent to affected staff late last month and seen by The Irish Times.

In the circular, Liam Woods, HSE national finance director, said there would be a formal engagement process with the Impact trade union in accordance with the Croke Park agreement before the change takes place. The HSE is working on a business plan which requires the agreement of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said the HSE was clearly acting under the direction of Minister for Health James Reilly.

“This information will come as no surprise to those of us who have long believed that Dr Reilly’s so-called reform agenda is based on an American rather than a European model, with increased private-sector involvement in all aspects of the healthcare infrastructure and services provision.”

The proposal is being resisted by Impact staff, who met this week to plan a campaign of resistance.

At the committee Mr O’Brien said over €166 million a year was paid in allowances to the HSE’s 104,000 staff, equivalent to 2.61 per cent of the total pay bill.

This included almost €87 million paid to nurses, €36 million for care and support staff, and €29 million paid to medical and dental staff, according to Mr O’Brien.

Almost 37,000 HSE staff receive an allowance, he told the committee.

Industrial unrest

Some 41 different allowances are paid, 12 of them for nurses. Mr O’Brien said many of these stemmed from industrial unrest among nurses in the 1990s.

Under Labour Court recommendations, allowances were granted to nurses with specialist skills or working in arduous areas.

He described 31 of the payments as legacy allowances from the last century.

Mr O’Brien said there was concern about high spending on acting-up allowances, which cost €17.7 million last year.

As a 24-hour, seven-day service it was essential to have flexibility to provide cover at short notice to ensure patient safety and minimise medical risk.

He said negotiations with staff had begun with the aim of restricting the payment of acting-up allowances to periods over 84 days.

It was expected these talks would end soon, and he said a new arrangement would be implemented which would facilitate considerable savings to the exchequer.