IMPACT demands clarification of health recruitment policy

Monday 08 August 2011

IMPACT trade union has today (Monday) written to health minister James Reilly to seek clarification of the Government’s recruitment policy for child protection staff and other essential front-line professionals. The union says a decision by HSE management to override Government-determined exemptions from the public service recruitment embargo appeared to be a breach of Government policy.

The exemptions cover a small group of health professionals including social workers, speech therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other therapy grades. IMPACT says hundreds of practitioners, currently at various stages of the recruitment process, now seem unlikely to be hired to fill vacancies that the Government says should be staffed.

IMPACT national secretary Louise O’Donnell said it was no longer clear whether the Government or HSE management were setting health policy. “We are almost three years into the most rigid public service recruitment embargo ever known and, as a result, staff numbers are falling in the health service and elsewhere. In this context, there is nothing trivial about the few professional categories exempted under Government policy. Either the HSE should be told that crucial posts in child protection and elsewhere can and should be filled or the public deserves an explanation for what would be a significant change in the Government’s health and child protection policy,” she said.

Ms O’Donnell also expressed concern at the accelerating use of agency workers, including in professions exempted from the recruitment embargo, which she said was a relatively expensive alternative to hiring staff. She said figures given to IMPACT and other unions last Friday (5th August) revealed that projected savings from cuts in agency rates were not being delivered because the HSE was using many more agency staff than in the past.

The HSE incurs VAT costs and agency commission – on top of pay costs – when it uses agency workers.

Ms O’Donnell acknowledged the challenge of managing health services as budgets fell and demand increased. But she said the HSE needed to vastly improve its service and spending projections for 2012 to avoid another “annual autumn crisis.”

“The figures given to us last week show that the numbers employed in the health service have fallen and that staff numbers are well within target. But the HSE is not anticipating demand or activity accurately, and is not properly relating its service plan to its resources. As a result, we are once again facing a panic-driven slowdown in the second half of the year, with elective surgery likely to grind to a halt,” she said.