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Sam Boal/
the health service

'Wholly unsatisfactory': Harris pressed in Dáil over recruitment freeze in the HSE

Harris said he believed the HSE was putting “sensible” controls in place.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said the recruitment controls put in place by the HSE are “sensible” after being pressed in the Dáil on the current embargo on some roles within the health service. 

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, however, has said that the current freeze on some parts of the health service will mean hospitals are forced to take on more expensive agency staff, highlighting the “idiocy” of the plan.

Implemented last month, the freeze has seen many people who were offered jobs now being told that the positions are no longer available.

In some cases, individuals left their existing employment in the belief that they’d be starting their new job within the HSE on the start date they were given. It wasn’t until after the matter was first reported in the media that they were told this wouldn’t be the case. 

Last month, spoke to people that are now left unsure how they’ll be able to pay their mortgage or look after their children as they have no indication when they’ll actually be able to start their new job with the HSE.

In one case, a woman who had just secured a nursing position was told by the HR unit at the hospital that there is no guarantee that she’ll be able to take up her position at any time in the near future. 

O’Reilly asked Harris today why an embargo has been placed on the hiring of staff in the health service. She said a previous Fianna Fáil government had done similar and “it is equally wrong now in light of the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis”.

The health minister replied that he didn’t agree that it was a recruitment embargo. “The issue can be accurately described as individual hospital groups and community health organisations across the HSE needing to live within their allocated budget,” he said.

Where individual hospital groups or CHOs have not submitted staffing plans in line with their budgets, certain measures and controls regarding recruitment have been put in place. If a hospital or CHO puts a plan in place that is in line with its budget and the plan is approved, it can conduct recruitment but if it has not bothered to produce a plan it cannot simply make up its recruitment plans willy-nilly.

He added that the HSE will recruit 2,000 additional workers this year. 

O’Reilly replied that it was “like déjà vu all over again”. “The Minister’s predecessor when Fianna Fáil was in government did not call it an embargo either, but we all know that is what it was. I am little shocked,” she said. 

The Minister will state that he pays hospital managers very well, but they simply have not bothered to submit a plan. They are his words, not mine. He is happy that there are people at a very high level in the health service, earning very high wages, who are not bothered to do parts of their job. That is wholly unsatisfactory.

She went on to describe a situation where a number of young nurses are considering leaving Ireland because they can’t get permanent work and the spend on agency staff will only increase.

Highlighting one case, O’Reilly said: “She had a letter of offer but she will return to her job in England. Quite frankly, she feels the NHS wants her to work there and does not feel that the HSE wants her here.”

Harris again reiterated that he wouldn’t describe the current situation as an embargo.

“We are going to hire 2,000 more people,” he said. “However, what we are expecting hospital groups and CHOs to do is something that every other public service agency, every department and certainly every other business and private sector employer does, which is live within their budget.”

Harris added that he believed the HSE had acted sensibly with the controls that would end at the end of June. 

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