Varadkar says he would prefer more staff to fewer earning more

Minister says it would be hard to back pay deal which came at expense of services

 Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “There should never be a conflict between what is good for staff and what is good for patients”. File photograph: Collins

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “There should never be a conflict between what is good for staff and what is good for patients”. File photograph: Collins

 

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said he would prefer to have more staff working in the health service rather than fewer personnel earning more money.

Speaking as he arrived at the Impact trade union health and welfare division conference in Ennis, he said: “I hope there’s room for both but I know what my priority is.”

The Minister said he supported pay restoration for public servants but the pot of money available was limited and also had to be used for developing services and to pay tax cuts that benefitted everybody.

Mr Varadkar also said he would like to retain, as part of any new deal on pay restoration in the public service, the productivity measures which were put in place under the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements.

However, he also said he wanted to see health services working a bit more efficiently, providing services for patients such as scans and operations later into evening and over the weekend. He said staff would need to be paid more for such work.

The Minister also said that greater flexibility and work practices changes on the part of staff would be required to bring about these reforms.

Mr Varadkar told the conference that as a Cabinet member, he would find it very hard to support a pay deal that came at the expense of public services. “There should never be a conflict between what is good for staff and what is good for patients and taxpayers but if such a conflict arises it is my duty to be on the side of taxpayers and patients and that is a judgment call I am ready to make.”

The Minister said the public sector had played a pivotal role in the recovery but that the forthcoming talks with public service unions would be “challenging”.

He said the country was still borrowing to cover day to day expenditure.

“ So any request for a reversal of pay cuts must be viewed from a cross-Government perspective.”

“For example, in gealth this year we have allocated €30 million to pay for new oral medicines which cure hepatitis. We are expanding acute medical assessment units, providing funding for bilateral cochlear implants, and hiring more physiotherapists and occupational therapists in the community. That’s money that in years gone by might have gone into pay increases rather than services.”

Mr Varadkar said that past mistakes cannot be repeated.

However he maintained regular pay rises were part of a normal economy. “That’s why the Government wants to formulate a sustainable policy on public sector pay, which can play its part on the economic recovery over the next few years. And that’s why we need to draft an agreement that delivers for health sector staff, for patients, and for employers, as well as for the expanding economy.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Children James Reilly has described as “utter conjecture” the report that public service workers are set to gain on average more than €800 each as part of the Government’s reversal of pay cuts.

He said Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin was discussing with trade unions how to begin “unwinding” the financial emergency legislation that underpinned cuts to pay for public service staff and fees for contractors such as GPs, dentists and pharmacists in recent years.

“The financial emergency measures in the public interest Bill was brought in during a financial emergency. Now everybody can see that the economy’s recovering,” Dr Reilly said.

“In relation to the figures being mentioned, they’re utter conjecture, and nothing has been tabled by the Government in that regard at all,” he said.