Children’s hospital project ‘at risk’ due to staff shortages

HSE budget overrun hits €230 million up to end of July, despite spending curbs

The opening of the new national children’s hospital is at risk due to shortages of senior medical staff, hospital consultants have warned.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

The opening of the new national children’s hospital is at risk due to shortages of senior medical staff, hospital consultants have warned. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

The opening of the new national children’s hospital is at risk due to shortages of senior medical staff, hospital consultants have warned.

Ahead of its annual conference on Saturday, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) warned that with about 500 medical specialist posts now vacant or filled on a temporary basis, a number of the Government ‘s key health service programmes were in jeopardy.

These include the children’s hospital, the national cancer care programme and the national maternity strategy.

The union’s warning comes as new figures show the Health Service Executive overspent its budget by almost €230 million in the first seven months of the year.

Mr Harris said up to the end of July the HSE had recorded a revenue deficit of €226 million.

He said deficit recorded to the end of July -- about 2.5 per cent of the available budget -- represented “a significant improvement on the same period last year”.

The Minister said the main drivers of the deficit were acute hospitals, disability services, pensions, State claims, payments by the primary care reimbursement service and overseas treatments.

Mr Harris has pulled out of a planned address to the IHCA conference in Dublin on Saturday evening.

The IHCA described the Minister’s decision not to attend as “ extremely disappointing” and a missed opportunity. Individual doctors accused Mr Harris of “cowardice” on social media.

According to his officials, Mr Harris has a “diary issue” that prevents him addressing the conference.

The union said it had expected the Minister to use his speech to set out how he planned to deal with major challenges facing the health service.

Talks

Medical representative bodies are waiting on the Government to convene talks aimed at addressing the lower pay in place for consultants appointed after October 2012.

Mr Harris had promised to invite medical organisations to these talks in September.

The Department of Health said on Friday that it remained the intention to send out these invitations to talks on consultants’ pay this month. “It is welcome that the IHCA has placed a focus on mental health and Minister Jim Daly is attending the conference,” a spokeswoman said.

“Minister Harris had a diary issue on this occasion but he and his Department regularly engage with consultant organisations and he expects that engagement to intensify in the very near future.”

The Irish Times reported last month that the HSE had told the Government that “difficult decisions” will need to be taken if its financial deficit - which had reached nearly €170 million by the end of May - was to be reduced.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe told Minister for Health Simon Harris in a letter in July that there was a clear onus on him and his officials “to bring forward a clear cost containment and risk mitigation plan for managing expenditure” within the approved levels.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid had told his board that his target was to confine financial deficits in the acute hospital and disability sectors to less than €100 million this year. He also said that in June the HSE had 1,030 more staff than officially permitted.