HSE pays thousands to agencies to hire staff, says Siptu

Union urges Oireachtas group to run rule over finder fees paid to employment agencies

The Health Service Executive has had to pay compensation of up to €10,000 in some cases to employment agencies when it wanted to offer permanent posts to temporary staff they had provided to the health service, according to trade union Siptu.

On Wednesday the union told the Oireachtas committee on health that in some cases it seemed "as if the employee was bonded to the agency".

Siptu urged the committee and the HSE to investigate the payment of such “finder’s fees” to agencies.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said the HSE would pay out more than €200 million on agency personnel to provide services in hospitals and other facilities this year.

He said the HSE was purchasing in excess of 500,000 working hours “through expensive agency arrangements rather than direct employment”. The union called for this policy to be revised.

Mr Bell told the committee that under some arrangements where the HSE offered a person registered with an agency a permanent post, a fee would be demanded.

He said the union had only recently discovered how expensive that can be.

Mr Bell said he understood that in one case the HSE was charged a “finder’s fee” of €10,000 for a a worker who it wanted to take on as a full-time employee.

He said the contract stated that the worker concerned could not work for the employer for a period of 24 months unless there was an agreement reached to buy out this arrangement.

Mr Bell also maintained that the HSE and the Department of Health were seeking to use bureaucratic measures to keep down staffing numbers so as to avoid having to use terms such as recruitment embargo, freeze or moratorium.

“While it would appear they are seeking to steer away from the stigma of these labels and their effects from the past, they are very much present in all their former aspects albeit under the disguise of business cases and multilayer approval bureaucracy.”

Mr Bell said the system of approval for filling vacancies or submitting business cases for replacement of new/existing posts is designed to frustrate and most importantly not do what is needed, fill vacancies.

Maternity leave

“Line managers and staff within the system are left totally demoralised at the extensive effort and repeated procedures required in order to fill vacancies for essential posts. Even where replacement of a post is approved, it is common that recruitment takes well over a year to complete. During this time, staff are left carrying the demand of the service . . . This does not just affect the replacement of vacancies as it is the same procedure which also undermines the replacement of maternity leave etc. In such circumstances . . . the HSE may confirm replacement of a maternity leave literally weeks before the staff member is due to return to the workplace.”

Separately, the Mental Health Commission told the Oireachtas committee on Wednesday that the provision of mental health services were "inconsistent across the country and lacked proper planning and resourcing and integration to ensure each geographical area receives the same level of quality".

Commission chief executive John Farrelly said the decision by the HSE to remove the post of national director for mental health had sent out "a clear and unambiguous, although perhaps unintended, message that mental health is not a priority . . . It is also evident to the commission that this has negatively impacted on the delivery of services nationally."

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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