IMPACT health conference: Health plan must have ambition for a universal single-tier health system

Union says health policy can’t be based on political expediency

IMPACT trade union has told the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, that national health policy needs to get away from policies based on political expediency and the demands of powerful or vocal interests within the system.

The union’s national secretary Eamonn Donnelly was responding to a speech by the minister this morning (Thursday) at the union’s divisional conference in Wexford. IMPACT represents almost 30,000 health service workers including health and social care professionals, technicians, and clerical, administrative and managerial staff.

Mr Donnelly said the union backed the ten-year planning approach. “I fully agree that structural reforms, and the development of services, must be planned over a ten-year time frame, it cannot be rooted exclusively in the lifetime of a particular Government.

“Any plan must share a vision and ambition for a universal single-tier health system, regardless of who is in Government. This is essential in order to get away from health policies based on political expediency, or the needs or demands of powerful or vocal interests within the system. Those who shout loudest should not decide the future of services and workplaces that we all depend on.”

Mr Donnelly welcomed the findings of the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, published on Tuesday (30th May), and its recommendation for additional investment the health service over the next decade in order to provide equal access to universal healthcare.

He added that the union believes health unions could support many of the proposals put forward by the minister to the Oireachtas Committee of the Future of Health Care in March this year. “We support the view that the HSE could be significantly downsized, and that a small number of integrated regional health groups could better perform most of its functions while reporting directly to the Department of Health. This vision was reflected in the evidence submitted to the Committee by the Congress health unions last year.”

‘Front-line’

Mr Donnelly said that the morale of staff within the health system had been damaged by what he called “the lazy lexicon of the front-line,” which sought to diminish the role of clerical and administrative staff in the health service.
“Of course quality services need dedicated nurses and doctors and, indeed, other health and social care professionals who are so often absent from the media and political narrative. But the message, implied or otherwise, that staff in other vital support roles have no value, or are somehow inferior, needs to be nailed once and for all,” he said.

“These people are the backbone of our health services. They’re a small proportion of health workers giving direct support to doctors, nurses and other health professionals.”

Mr Donnelly said the criticism was not directed at the minister himself, but that this was the type of language that had been adopted by virtually all of Minister Harris’s predecessors. “I understand the political incentive to do so, particularly on foot of a totally biased media presentation of the numbers, roles and performance of clerical admin and management staff,” he said.

Outsourcing

Referencing the ongoing public service pay talks, Mr Donnelly echoed the comments made yesterday by the chair of the union’s health and Welfare division, Maura Cahalan. “IMPACT simply won’t vote for any attempt to water down the agreed provisions on outsourcing contained in the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

“We’re seeking the best possible outcome in the pay talks. To us this means the quickest, sustainable, restoration of income lost at the height of the economic crisis.

“Outsourcing is a red-line issue for us. We simply won’t vote for an agreement that puts decent jobs at risk, or which says it’s okay for vital public services to be delivered by staff on minimum wage, with no rights or representation, and no idea whether they’ll have a job next year, next month or even next week,” he said.

The Lansdowne Road Agreement requires management to consult with unions and put forward a business plan if they want to outsource a service or part of a service. Crucially, the business case cannot include pay cost comparisons. This includes basic pay, leave, premium payments and pension benefits.

Underperforming managers

Mr Donnelly also criticised earlier reports that the minister was threatening to sack HSE managers for alleged underperformance. Mr Donnelly said health managers deserved commendation, along with their staff, for maintaining services during the worst recession – and collapse in public finances – in living memory, including cuts to pay and working conditions.

“I would say to any minister with responsibility for our health services: If you identify underperforming managers, you should use the ample powers already at your disposal to address the issue. If not, you should support your staff and deal with the challenges that are primarily due to insufficient bed capacity and underfunded community health services.

“Those challenges are met daily by our members. Their contribution is real, it is substantial and it is ongoing. They provide the foundations upon which a ten-year plan can be built.” he said.