Nurses in Cork facility may be getting paid for break times, audit finds

HSE report says payments for breaks were sometimes invoiced even if not approved

Photograph: Getty

Photograph: Getty


It would appear to be standard practice for nurses working 12-hour overnight shifts in a mental health facility in Cork either not to take mandatory breaks or else to be paid for these breaks, a new Health Service Executive internal audit report has found.

The report into agency nurse payments at St Stephen’s Hospital in Glanmire also found there was a practice in place by which payments for breaks were sometimes invoiced to the HSE “even if not appropriately approved” by the HSE employee signing the agency nurse’s timesheet.

St Stephen’s Hospital is a HSE facility providing acute adult mental health care, long-stay care, later life care and mental health rehabilitation. In 2017 it spent €1.2 million on payments to nurses provided through agencies.

Auditors said the area administrator of the Cork North Mental Health Services had asked the special projects and investigation unit of the HSE’s internal audit division to carry out a review of the process in place at the hospital in relation to the administration of payment for agency nurse staffing.

The report says that under legislation an employee is entitled to a break every six hours. It says that the policy of the agency providing the vast bulk of nurses to the hospital is that breaks must be taken and are unpaid.

Agency nurses

“It would appear to be regular practice that agency nurses working 12-hour shifts overnight are being paid for the full 12 hours, ie are either not taking a break or [are] being paid for their break.”

It says 12-hour daytime shifts result in claims to the HSE for 11 hours.

It says the policy of paying for a full 12 hours overnight would appear to be universal and the authorisation signature would appear not to be required.

The HSE audit report also says that the hospital was not adhering to the national framework agreement in place for the recruitment of agency nurses. It also says there was no evidence available as to how the hourly rate of pay charged for agency nurses was determined.

Separately in another report in relation to procurement within the maintenance department at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, HSE internal auditors found that painting services with a value of €45,000 in 2017 “were quoted on a job-by-job basis and at hourly rates rather than tendering on an annual basis for the service”.