Frontline health services ‘coming under pressure’ due to recruitment freeze, says Donnelly

Minister for Health tells Dáil he had to ‘challenge back’ HSE to certain extent, where there was ‘culture of additionality’

Frontline health services are “really coming under pressure” due to the existing recruitment freeze in the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

He told the Dáil on Thursday the Government was looking at the situation and ways of dealing with it to protect such services.

However, Mr Donnelly said he had to “challenge back” the HSE to a certain extent, where there was a “culture of additionality”.

Last November, the existing recruitment ban in the HSE was extended to almost all staff, with the exception of consultants, doctors in training and 2023 graduate nurses and midwives. Previously, the freeze was only enforced for managerial and administrative roles.


The move, which was criticised by staff and representative unions, was in a bid to tighten expenditure in light of significant budget overruns in 2023.

Mr Donnelly said he was aware that “in spite of record recruitment” in recent years, frontline services were coming under “real pressures” due to the embargo.

He said the HSE had continued to hire into unfunded posts and the Government had to use “what is a very blunt instrument which was a pause to say ‘you just have to stop, you are hiring thousands of staff that you have no money to pay their salaries’.”

The Fianna Fáil TD described how some in the HSE, who had “seen it over many years”, spoke of “a culture of additionality”.

Mr Donnelly outlined how the HSE had said they could only do certain things with more staff, despite having thousands more staff than they were funded to hire.

He asked how could it be that staff could not be redeployed or “the thousands of extra staff used to deal with some of these pressures”.

“I do appreciate the pressures,” he added. “We are looking at it and at ways of dealing with it to protect frontline services.

“We do at the same time need a bit of challenge back to service providers to say you have more staff than you have ever had before, you need to deploy them as well as possible.”

Mr Donnelly was responding to questions from Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, who also asked what would the minister do if an audit into how €19 million, allocated for children’s orthopaedic services, was spent found it was not used for the purposes for which it was intended.

The minister has asked the HSE to send its internal audit teams into Children’s Health Ireland to see how the amount, which was allocated in 2022 to help bring down waiting lists for such surgeries, was spent.

Mr Donnelly said he had taken the “unprecedented step” after issues were raised with him by patient advocacy groups.

“We need to wait to see what it [the audit] comes back with but I would like an answer from them very quickly,” he said.

“This is not going to be a several month piece of work. It is a fairly discrete piece of work ... If it is the case that there was a material allocation outside of the intended Government purpose, and the purpose of this Oireachtas, which votes through the budgets, that will be a very serious matter,” he said.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times