HSE to launch winter plan as nurses say recruitment restrictions crippling service

New €26m plan to focus on homecare packages and moves to ease overcrowding

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation  Phil Ní Sheaghdha. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Phil Ní Sheaghdha. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

A €26 million plan to alleviate problems in the health service this winter is to be launched on Thursday by the HSE.

The initiative is expected to involve the provision of additional homecare packages to facilitate the faster discharge of patients from hospitals and to ease pressures on emergency departments .

The plan is also expected to involve the HSE buying capacity from private hospitals, particularly in relation to diagnostics.

Informed sources said the new funding would support access to the Fair Deal nursing home scheme as well as to increase the availability of home care, transitional care, aids and appliances and other local services to facilitate discharges from hospital and reduce congestion in emergency departments.

However nurses warned on Wednesday that the Government might not be able to open any new beds that might be promised under the new plan due to recruitment restrictions in the health service.

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the current recruitment pause in the HSE was crippling the health service.

She said her members were reporting on a daily basis that staffing levels were completely inadeqauate, that they could not provide appropriate care, that this was unsafe and that their own mental and physical health was being affected.

Ms Ní Sheaghdhah said people were now afraid to go to public hospitals.

She said they were afraid of the waiting times and afraid they might not be seen in time. The INMO chief said decreases in palliative care services meant people were dying on trolleys in hospital emergency departments.

She said nurses who had taken career breaks and who wanted to return to work, were not now being allowed to do this because of the recruitment restrictions.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said health service management needed to implement an agreement to establish a funded workforce plan to set out the number of nurses and midwives required to provide a safe service.

She said the Government had told the HSE to stay within budget and the HSE, in turn, had hit the lowest hanging fruit – the workforce – to achieve this.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said under the current recruitment directive, when a post became vacant the signature of a HSE chief officer or head of a hospital group was needed to authorise the advertising of replacement positions.

“You can imagine the delays this causes in an acute hospital workforce of 17,000.”

The Department of Health has maintained that there is no national recruitment embargo or moratorium in place but that there is a priority requirement for all HSE services to maintain, or get to, an affordable staffing level that is sustainable in 2019 and 2020, while also prioritising the delivery of safe services .

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said organisation believed the HSE should publish its winter plan much earlier in the year, towards the end of August.

She said if the winter plan involved the announcement of additional beds, that at point in the year it was “ going to be impossible to staff them”.

She said the recruitment pause was in place and young graduates had made decisions about where they wanted to work. She said not all nursing graduates were offered jobs in the Irish public health system “and they do not hang around”.