Unions put pressure on health board over job cuts


The Western Health Board is under severe pressure to scale down its promised 200 job cuts following day-long meetings with unions in Galway yesterday.

SIPTU, which met Dr Sheelah Ryan, the health board's chief executive officer, yesterday afternoon, said that Dr Ryan had made it quite clear that she had to make savings of €1.15 million, as demanded by the Department of Health and Children.

Dr Ryan, who was making no comment yesterday evening, was summoned to a meeting with officials from the Department in Dublin on Thursday evening. The Minister, Mr Martin, had demanded to know how the figure of 200 administrative, clerical and managerial job cuts had been arrived at when his Department had estimated that savings could be made through 85 unfilled posts.

Mr Joe Cunningham, SIPTU's regional secretary, said that savings would have to be made in other budgetary areas to ensure that there were no job losses and no negative impact on patient care. Speaking to The Irish Times after the meeting, he said that his union was prepared to sit down and negotiate on "excessive spending" in areas such as travel expenses, but job cuts were "not the solution".

Dr Ryan had not identified particular jobs, but had undertaken to furnish the union with details of other budgetary expenditure, Mr Cunningham said. "We will enter negotiations under these other headings only," he emphasised.

However, IMPACT, which met the health board yesterday morning, took a harder line, calling on the Minister to rethink his health cuts strategy. IMPACT's national secretary, Mr Kevin Callinan, said that the union had been told that the board could not achieve the €1.15 million savings required by the Department of Health by cutting just 85 jobs.

"Two things are clear from the meeting," Mr Callinan said. "First, the cuts will affect services, although the board has yet to make a full assessment of where services will suffer most. And, second, the Health Department's calculations of what savings can be achieved were wrong, and this must have implications for other health boards, too.

"I am calling on the Minister to look again at his approach and take responsibility for a policy that is bound to damage health services in the west and across the country. His Department's approach flies in the face of his election promises and the health strategy."

Mr Callinan warned the Western Health Board "not to embark on any staffing cuts in advance of extensive consultation" and reiterated that IMPACT would resist any cut in permanent or long-serving temporary staff numbers. IMPACT represents over 20,000 health workers, including clerical, administrative and managerial staff. SIPTU represents medical staff and a range of non-nursing grades, including community welfare officers.

The board's finance and monitoring committee met separately yesterday in Galway. The chairwoman of the health board, Cllr Mary Hoade, who had just returned from holiday yesterday morning, said the main target would be to ensure that there was a minimum number of job losses. However, Cllr John Flannery said that the board was being scapegoated by the Department. The committee had adhered to its expenditure guidelines, he said.

Job cuts were not the answer and it was "no way to treat young people," Cllr Flannery said.

In a statement issued yesterday, the health board made no reference to the union discussions. It said that there had been a "detailed clarification" of the funding and staffing position of the board in the meeting with the Department of Health and Children on Thursday evening.

"The Department explained how it calculated its indicative figure of the non-filling of 85 posts to make savings of €1.15 million. The chief executive officer explained the problems she has in making the required savings, based on the number of posts identified within the proposed time frame, given the particular situation in the Western Health Board," the statement said.

The aim was to "achieve the required savings in line with the accountability legislation and in a matter which would have minimum impact on patient service", it added.