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'I'm pregnant and I've a toddler here': The families left in limbo over the recruitment freeze in the HSE

The HSE has said the freeze may persist to the end of June, but workers due to start before then have said they have been left in limbo.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Joachim Heng

PEOPLE WHO’VE LEFT their jobs to take up a new position in the HSE have been left out of pocket, lacking information and nowhere to go due to the recruitment freeze imposed on certain sections of the health service over the past month.

In one case, a pregnant woman who’s also mother to a young toddler left her job after being offered a new role within the HSE only to find her proposed start date came and went, and now she is left without a job and has a family to help provide for. 

In another case, a married couple with three kids are now left struggling to pay their mortgage after a husband resigned from his role to look after the children full-time so that his wife could take up a sought-after role in the HSE. Her May start date has been postponed and now both of them are out of work, and unsure what’ll happen next. 

Yesterday, TheJournal.ie reported that one woman may be left with nowhere to live after cancelling the lease on her home so she could relocate to take up a new job with the HSE. That job that she accepted is now on hold and she hasn’t been given an indication when she’ll be able to start it.

She is one of a number of other people who’ve been left in limbo while the recruitment freeze persists. Those we spoke to highlighted a worrying lack of clarity being offered by the HSE, and claimed that they weren’t told about the block being put on their new jobs until they chased it up themselves following media reports.

Recruitment freeze

On 29 March, HSE chief operations officer Liam Woods wrote to the director of acute operations Angela Fitzgerald and director of community operations David Walsh.

He said that recruitment had been suspended for the next three months due to the “financial pressures in the system” from recruitment last year, and the “need to live within the resources provided to the HSE”.

Woods said that it was hoped that this “additional control” will be in effect “for as short a period as necessary”. 

He added that the freeze on the recruitment of new posts will apply “until satisfactory financial plans [from the various hospital groups and CHOs] have been received, endorsed centrally and are demonstrating good evidence of traction”. 

This letter was released into the public domain by Labour health spokesperson Alan Kelly on 7 April.

At the time, Kelly said the move was “unprecedented” and “unbelievable”. He also said that this measure will “further impact on waiting lists and the crisis in our A&Es”. 

This week, he said it’s “unacceptable that healthcare professionals who have been offered jobs, who may have handed in their notice elsewhere because they were due to start a new job in the HSE that their start date now hangs in the balance”.

“People cannot put their lives on hold because of the complete mismanagement of this recruitment embargo,” he said. 

‘I didn’t think it would affect me’

Emma [names have been changed throughout the article at the individuals' request] worked in the private sector, and was granted a place on a HSE panel. In February, she was told she’d been selected to take the role of a clerical worker at a mental health clinic in the west of the country.

She is mother to a toddler and is four months’ pregnant. 

“I knew it was a long process anyway, with the likes of references and garda vetting to be done,” she told TheJournal.ie. “I knew it’d be a few months.”

The job Emma was offered would initially be maternity cover and, after meeting the team she’d be working with, she said they were keen to get her onboard as soon as possible.

She said: “I had to give a months’ notice at my job. I’d asked them to wait until I’d handed in my notice before getting references but they wanted me as soon as possible, so I handed in my notice.”

Over the phone, she was told by the team at the mental health centre that she’d be starting on 23 April. She was also told she’d receive her contract in the post a week prior to this start date.

The first media reports related to the freeze were published on 7 April. Emma assumed that – given that she’d been through the process and had been told a start date – it wouldn’t apply to her.

However, when the contract didn’t arrive, Emma got in touch with the recruitment department to find out what the issue was. When she did, she was informed that the freeze on recruitment affected her too, but was told she wouldn’t be getting that in writing.

Now, she’s in a situation where she’s left the job she had and can’t start the one she accepted. 

“I just feel so out of control,” she said.

I feel like there’s nothing I can do. I’m just worried now. I’m pregnant and have a toddler here. And I don’t even think I’d have been contacted. I had to go chasing them to be told this. It’s not fair. 

‘Pure devastation’

In another case, Zoe was successful in applying for a nursing role that she relished given her experience and the job on offer, and was given a start date in May.

Discussing the matter with her husband Thomas, they decided that she would pursue this role and he would resign from his senior job at the company he worked for so he could look after their three children.

Again, the pair had felt there was nothing to worry about after the initial news reports on the recruitment freeze as Zoe had already been given a start date.

However, just a few days after Thomas left his job, they were told Zoe’s new job had been put on hold.

“It was pure devastation, really,” he told TheJournal.ie. “She got a phone call from HR at the hospital to say that they can’t stand over that date. The hospital HR department have been wonderful, actually. They were apologetic, and said the funding has been removed for the position and there was nothing they could do.”

Thomas said the hospital in question was unable to give an indication when his wife would be able to take up the new job and it left the family of five with a mortgage to pay in an uncertain state. He said they were told this uncertainty over Zoe’s start date could persist well into the summer and possibly into the autumn. 

From having a steady income that left the family able to meet repayments on their home and car barely a month ago, Thomas and Zoe are now both unemployed and not sure what their next move will be. 

“We find ourselves in a situation where we’re being told to go to the bank to speak about our mortgage and how we’re gonna repay it,” he said. “You’re asking yourself ‘how did all go so wrong?’”

‘Incredibly frustrating’

Aoife is a physiotherapist based in Leinster who hoped to move to a different part of the country. 

After spending time on a HSE panel, she accepted a new job in March. Herself and a colleague were both lucky enough to secure roles in the section of the country they wished to move to.

She told TheJournal.ie: “Physiotherapy is a difficult career in terms of movement because recruitment is subject to national panels it’s very difficult to get a job in both the geographical and clinical area you wish to work in so we were delighted when the opportunity arose for us.”

Aoife saw the media reports around the recruitment freeze, and said she rang the national recruitment service after this. At this time, she said she was told her position wouldn’t be affected. 

However, she said she was told several days later that her job had been “put on hold for the foreseeable future” which could be as far as until the end of June.

“The details were incredibly vague,” Aoife said. “They told me they could still process the second stage of my recruitment, i.e. reference collection, occupational health and Garda vetting clearance, but they could not issue me with a contract at this point.

Myself and my colleague are now in complete limbo and getting no answers from anyone. I think this shows a complete disrespect for healthcare professionals employed or should I say being recruited by the HSE. They are not acknowledging the impact of this on people’s lives. 

HSE

In a response to TheJournal.ie earlier this week, a spokesperson for the HSE said there “isn’t a recruitment freeze in the HSE”, but highlighted “controls in place” until 30 June. 

“There are controls in place on an interim basis to up to the 30 June to ensure that the HSE is demonstrating that it is living within the available resources provided to it by Government,” the spokesperson said. “This does mean that in some Hospital Groups and CHOs non-critical replacement posts will be paused.”

TheJournal.ie asked the HSE if it wished to add to this statement, and address the concerns of people in uncertain financial situations due to the ongoing freeze. No response was received at the time of publication. 

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Sean Murray

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