HSE not expected to ban leave for doctors or nurses over Christmas

Authority to give winter plan to Government in wake of Varadkar remarks on holidays

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has met widespread criticism since saying hospitals were effectively closed for seven of the 12 days of Christmas and new year. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Health Service Executive is not expected to include proposals to ban leave for nurses and doctors over the festive season as part of a new plan for tackling the anticipated surge in hospital patient numbers in the new year.

The health authority will provide its winter plan to the Department of Health for approval on Friday. Observers argue that this and the level of additional funding being provided by the Government should have been agreed much earlier.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has faced widespread criticism since saying on Tuesday that hospitals were effectively closed for seven of the 12 days of Christmas and new year. He said the health service needed to ensure that "consultants will not be on holidays in the first week of the year. . . and that nurses will not be on leave in the first two weeks of January".

Asked whether the Government intended to use provisions in health legislation to direct the HSE to curtail such leave, a spokeswoman for Minister for Health Simon Harris said a process had begun with the department and the HSE to ensure winter plans include signed-off staffing rotas for the period.


None of the hospital groups which replied to queries from The Irish Times on Thursday indicated that there would be widespread bans on leave imposed over the Christmas period.

The Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation said it had not been approached by health service management about any additional restrictions on leave.

Rostering schedule

The Ireland East group, which includes the Mater and St Vincent's hospitals in Dublin, said all of its constituent hospitals had a consistent and appropriate rostering schedule throughout the year including Christmas.

The Dublin Midlands group, which includes St James's and Tallaght, said that as part of the winter planning process it had requested that its hospitals review their leave arrangements over the Christmas and new year period and ensure appropriate resources are in place.

“The decision to grant or refuse leave requests is only taken when service needs have been fully accommodated.”

The Children’s Hospital Group said staffing arrangements for Christmas and new year across the three children’s hospitals would be the same as last year. It said “arrangements were always in place to ‘staff up’ accordingly in the event of a major emergency and/or critical incident including a weather-related crisis”.

A spokeswoman for the South/Southwest Hospital Group, which includes facilities in Cork and Kerry, said rostering was a matter for hospital managers and was not formally overseen by the group.

The Saolta hospital group in the west region said that generally there was a reduction in elective activity over the Christmas and new year period as patients generally prefer to be at home where possible but that emergency and urgent cases continue to be dealt with.

The University of Limerick Hospital Group said medical and nursing staff did not take take extended leave over Christmas and new year. Senior management staff were notified last month that no leave would be sanctioned for them between January 2nd and 16th next. It said management would focus on unscheduled care, patient flow and emergency activity.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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