New HSE staff ‘not allowed’ to work due to recruitment ban, TDs claim

Taoiseach denies ban in place but says HSE cannot hire staff it has ‘no budget for’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar denied there was a recruitment freeze in the HSE, as he faced criticism from TDs for overcrowding in hospitals. Photograph: Alan Betson

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar denied there was a recruitment freeze in the HSE, as he faced criticism from TDs for overcrowding in hospitals. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Medical staff recruited up to nine months ago have not been allowed to start work in the health service because of an ongoing embargo, it has been claimed in the Dáil.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said that in April the HSE had “to all intents and purposes” implemented a recruitment embargo that was supposed to end in mid-July but was still in place.

He said the Government continued to deny the embargo but had introduced “interim controls” and “meanwhile the HSE is spending millions on agency staff to cover the recruitment freeze”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar denied an embargo was in place as he told the Dáil that there were 317 patients on trolleys on Tuesday afternoon after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) released figures that there were 679 patients on trolleys in the morning.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said a moratorium has been in place since April and Independent TD Tommy Broughan accused the Taoiseach of “misleading the House” because people who had been recruited eight or nine months ago “are not allowed to start work in our health services”.

But the Taoiseach insisted there was no recruitment ban and said up to 15,000 more people worked in the HSE than two or three years ago.

Mr Varadkar said that since September 2018 there had been an increase in staffing levels with 125 more consultants, 189 more registrars and 301 more clinical nurse managers along with 143 more nurses and midwife specialists and 1111 more staff nurses and midwives.

But Mr Varadkar insisted there had been more recruitments but added that “what is no longer permitted is HSE managers taking on staff if they do not have the budget to pay them”.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that there was still a severe overcrowding problem in Irish hospitals but he said the number of beds had been increasing every year since 2014 and was now back at pre-recession levels.

Ms McDonald accused the Taoiseach of presiding over a “complete and utter failure in health policy.”

“For eight years now you have failed to make any inroads in tackling the trolley crisis. We have had three Fine Gael ministers, including yourself, and things haven’t got any better.”

She said the situation was getting worse and “record numbers have been left on trolleys for the first 10 months of this year. As we progress deeper into the winter, this problem will become more acute.” Ms McDonald cited figures from the INMO that 11,452 patients in Irish hospitals were left without beds in October.

The Dublin Central TD said these numbers should cause alarm bells to ring. “They reflect the fact that the government has failed to tackle this real and immediate pressure.”

But the Taoiseach said he fully understood the experience of an overcrowded emergency department for staff patients and their families, having worked in three emergency departments and having visited all others as minister for health.

“We have more doctors working in our public health service than ever before. We have 600 more nurses and midwives than we had this time last year.”

And he rounded on Ms McDonald, suggesting that her “own lack of practical knowledge of the health service, health policy and how it works” was what gave her reason “to believe that there are easy solutions to complex problems such as this, which Governments of all parties have struggled to deal with for many decades”.

He added that overcrowding is a feature of the health service in Northern Ireland “which Sinn Féin was responsible for until it collapsed the Executive two years ago”.