Health spending overruns ‘cannot be tolerated’, says Harris

Nurses conference urges Minister for Health to end current recruitment pause in health service

The health service has to live within its budget and there cannot be a “runaway train” where individual health managers are deciding on the numbers to employ, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris said the health service had to “deploy a degree of common sense” in relation to the number of staff recruited.

Nurses on Friday urged Mr Harris to end the current pause on recruitment in the health service.

He said every year the number of doctors, nurses and front-line staff was increasing. However, he said equally there was a responsibility to the taxpayer that the health service lived within its budget.


Mr Harris said if the Minister for Education had funding to take on 500 teachers and the Department of Education subsequently had gone off and recruited 1,000 new teachers, people would rightly be asking why was the budget was overrun.

Mr Harris said the pause on recruitment was being misrepresented in some quarters.

“Where hospital groups have not submitted plans that are in line with budget, they are then told they cannot recruit more until they put in those realistic plans.”

“ I do not think it is an unreasonable thing to ask a health service manager, who is paid by the taxpayer, to comply with the wishes of the Government and the Oireachtas on budgetary plans.

“When they fail to do that, we see very significant overruns in our health service. And those overruns cannot be tolerated.”

Speaking at the annual conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Trim on Friday, the Mr Harris said every nurse graduating this year would be offered a job in the health service.

He also said he would look at greater supports that could be provided to student nurses.

Mr Harris told delegates that the recent agreement following the strike by nurses and midwives earlier this year represented “a good deal for nursing and midwifery and brings many opportunities for development”.

He added: “I hope positive changes in pay, conditions and professional development will encourage those who work here to stay and will help attract back those nurses that left the system in recent years.”

The president of the INMO Martina Harkin-Kelly said implementing the new agreement meant that staffing numbers would have to be based on patient dependency.

“The crude instrument of setting staffing solely by what budgets allow, regardless of consequences, has to go. The HSE’s recruitment pause for nurses and midwives has to go,” she said.

“The debate on ‘How many do we need on the ward ?’ is over. It took a strike to get this funding commitment and, by God, we are going to hold them to it.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent