THE WILLINGNESS AMONG HSE staff to perform duties at the weekend is improving, says Minister for Health James Reilly.
Speaking at an Oireachtas meeting earlier today, Reilly noted that the process should now be formalised through the Croke Park Agreement.
Clinicians and consultants are to be commended for working weekends voluntarily, he told the joint committee on health and children. However, he added that no service can continue to work on a pro-bono basis.
The work currently being carried out is moving the healthcare system in Ireland closer to offering a seven-day service as diagnostics and discharges are happening on Saturdays and Sundays, said Reilly.
The committee today also heard that much of the anxiety surrounding the HSE early retirement scheme has been created by hyperbole and “rash statements with no foundation”.
The Minister said these have done “little to help in terms of patient care”, adding that there is “no reason to expect that we won’t have a safe service” after the retirements are completed at the end of this month.
He also refuted that the retirements have come about because of an “incentivised scheme”. He said people took up the offer as they terms of employment might change later this year.
As he has conceded previously, Reilly reiterated that budget cuts will mean an “inevitable and unavoidable effect on services”. The waiting time for elective procedures may also be impacted by retirements.
Comprehensive plans and contingency teams are in place at national and regional levels, as well as at individual hospitals to mitigate the effects of the large number of retirements. A variety of methods, including redeployment, reorganisation, changes to staff rosters and personal flexibility, are being used, explained the Minister.
Praising frontline staff, he said they had shown great flexibility by giving up leave or working hours for time off in lieu instead of extra pay.
More than 520 of the 4,326 staff leaving the HSE will be replaced and Reilly confirmed that the the jobs will be given to new employees. Those retiring will not be rehired on different terms, he said.
The aim is to give newly qualified nurses, doctors, consultants and others a job.
Of the 55 consultants retiring, 48 will be replaced. Laverne McGuinness, National Director at the HSE, also confirmed that many of those retiring from nurse manager grades will be replaced because they hold such critical roles such as maternity, paediatrics, neonatal and specialists.
A total of 1,994 nurses are retiring from the 36,000-strong HSE nursing staff. Of those, 662 are nurse managers.
The majority of the 4,326 staff who have left – or are leaving – the health workforce are at or near retirement age. CEO of the HSE Cathal Magee told the same committee that of the 4,326 workers retiring, 2,264 were over 60 years of age.