HSE U-turn on travel expenses after IMPACT intervention

2nd December 2011     

IMPACT has welcomed the reversal of the HSE’s decision to defer the reimbursement of transport costs incurred by its staff. The move came the day after the union wrote to health minister James Reilly urging him to instruct the HSE to think again.

The Department of Health announced that travel and subsistence payments would be paid “when they fall due” after Dr Reilly met the HSE chief executive Cathal Magee yesterday afternoon.

IMPACT national secretary Louise O’Donnell said members could now continue to travel on HSE business in confidence that their vouched expenses will be reimbursed. “Health staff are working hard to cut costs and maintain services, but they can’t be expected to meet the costs of running vital community health services out of their own pockets,” she said.

Louise first called on the minister to instruct the HSE to reverse its decision on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme on Wednesday. This after Dr Reilly told RTÉ’s Primetime that he did not support the HSE move.

IMPACT also sought an immediate meeting with HSE management, who made the announcement to journalists – not staff or their unions – late on Tuesday afternoon. The union had advised staff who travel in the course of their jobs to continue doing so pending clarification of the situation.

The union said health services would suffer badly if the HSE refused to cover the transport costs incurred by social workers, environmental health officers, care workers, public health nurses and other staff.

IMPACT said reimbursement of travel expenses – recently cut by 25% – was not a staff benefit. Rather it was reimbursement for petrol and other costs incurred by staff who use their own cars, or public transport, to deliver personal services or enforce public health protections in rural and urban communities.

Transport payments are only made after a staff member is instructed to travel to perform their duties and has the travel approved by a manager as essential to the delivery of services,” a spokesperson said.

Letter to health minister

Dr James Reilly TD
Minister for Health
Department of Health
Hawkins House
Dublin 2

Dear Minister

HSE decision to delay travel and subsistence payments

I am writing to ask you to instruct HSE management to reverse, with immediate effect, its decision to delay the payment of travel and subsistence costs incurred by HSE staff.

I fully agree with your comments on this matter, which were broadcast on national TV yesterday evening. You are aware that the payments the HSE intends to withhold are simply the reimbursement of costs already incurred by staff carrying out HSE duties.

You are also aware that travel costs are incurred only when staff have been instructed to travel to perform their duties, and that travel claims must be approved and verified by a manager before payment is made. IMPACT believes that services are likely to be affected if staff cannot undertake their duties in the confidence that associated and verified costs will be reimbursed in the normal way.

I also want to point out that the HSE’s ongoing practice of making announcements of this kind to journalists – rather than to staff or their representatives – is extremely damaging to staff morale and makes the challenge of maintaining services against the background of budget and staffing cuts considerably more difficult. Health staff would certainly appreciate your intervention on this matter.

I am available to meet you at any time to discuss this matter. In the meantime, you can contact me on 087-241-3386. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Louise O’Donnell
National Secretary