Recruitment targets for the health service were missed by more than 50 per cent last year, the Oireachtas health committee has been told.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the committee on Thursday that a total of 6,149 whole time equivalents (WTEs) were hired into the health system last year, compared to a budget day target of 14,700.
“We can look in two ways,” he said, at the missed targets – conceding that the hiring was “significantly below our ambition – and that’s true”. But he said: “It is also the case the two years with the highest number of additions to the health workforce were last year and the year before.”
Mr Donnelly agreed with Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane, who raised the issue, that it was "far short" of the target set – arguing that it was offset by the fact that "several thousand" were also hired into the vaccine programme, and into testing and tracing.
Mr Donnelly will launch a waiting list plan worth €350 million tomorrow – but he confirmed to Mr Cullinane that the funding for this was already announced in Budget 2022. He said the current situation with hospital waiting lists “isn’t acceptable”.
Mr Donnelly said he had purposely set "stretch" targets for recruitment and waiting list times which pushed the health system "outside its comfort zone". "Whether or not we reach all of the targets remains to be seen but the targets we have set are intentionally stretch targets," he told Fine Gael TD for Kildare North Bernard Durkan.
Mr Donnelly told Social Democrats co-leader Roisin Shortall that his intention is to make parts of the health service "uncomfortable" with the targets being set, and that he felt it was part of the job of the political system to push them. Mr Donnelly told Ms Shortall that he does not think it is "acceptable" that there is still no universal healthcare identifier, a specific number allocated to service users that tracks them across the health service.
He also said he was "very uncomfortable" with the recent publication of tapes secretly made of civil servants discussing budgetary matters in the Department of Health. He said some of the comments published were inaccurate.
Gino Kenny, the People Before Profit TD for Dublin West, asked about new staff for the Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) and eating disorder specialists last year, with Minister of State Mary Butler telling him there were 53 and 45 WTEs recruited last year.
Mr Donnelly told Mr Kenny that he believed the current training path for junior doctors is inappropriate and “needs to be completely changed”. He met with a group of Non Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs) last week and said “quite frankly I was shocked about what they told me about their reality”, with many forced to move around the country, without basic supports and working “far too long” in the week.
He said: “We need to see some very serious change in how they are treated, their conditions of work and the training opportunities they have.”