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HSE and Govt ‘recklessly compromising’ patient care with recruitment freeze – IMO

By Reporter - 10th Nov 2023

The HSE and Government are “recklessly compromising patient care” by today’s announcement of an extension of the recruitment freeze introduced last month, according to the IMO.

The extension, communicated today, encompasses all grades except consultants, NCHDs in training, and 2023 nursing/midwifery graduates.

According to the latest memo by HSE CEO Mr Bernard Gloster: “I know this will create difficulties for many of you and the EMT [executive management team] will support service managers in the application of this circular in particular situations. However, in 2024 we will be consolidating our now unprecedented and expanded workforce and range of services they provide.”

Mr Gloster added: ” 2024 will bring an additional allocation to the workforce 2,268 WTE (excluding disability services) and there are many possibilities to be explored for the years ahead. This move is necessary only because we know now that by year end we will have reached our 2023 ambitions for recruitment.”

The IMO had already met with the HSE (following the announcement of 13 October) and detailed the serious consequences of the recruitment freeze on service grade NCHDs, including the adverse impact on patient care and on NCHDs, who would be forced to work unsafe, illegal hours in breach of the NCHD contract and legislation on safe working hours.

The union said it was “more than disappointed” at the response of the HSE and had sought commitments that:

  • NCHDs will not be requested to work unsafe and illegal hours which puts both patients and NCHDs at significant risk.
  • All maternity and sick leave will be covered by locum staff to ensure safe staffing levels.
  • Existing gaps in medical team rotas will be filled so that NCHDs will not be forced to take on onerous and unsafe commitments in terms of both working hours and on-call rotas.

“The HSE has for some years now been recruiting doctors from abroad who are providing vital work in keeping our health services working, yet with this freeze there is no certainty that those contracts will be renewed,” stated the union.

Speaking today, Dr Rachel McNamara, Chair of the IMO NCHD committee, said: “It speaks volumes of the HSE’s attitude to patients and doctors that outrageous decisions are not just acceptable to them, but doubled down on. The recruitment freeze last month was a huge mistake and we have told them this.

 “Today’s decision makes things even worse and the HSE made the decision in the full knowledge it will affect patient care. It is unacceptable that the HSE and Government would take this action knowing it will compromise patient care in a very significant way.

 “Irish doctors are being approached daily by health systems in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK who are desperately trying to encourage them to work in systems that will value, support and respect them.  The response from the HSE and Government is the polar opposite. 

 “Covid exposed how fragile our services are, yet instead of strengthening the system, the lack of adequate funding is ensuring that we do the exact opposite and are failing patients and healthcare staff yet again.  This is a short-sighted measure, repeating the cost-cutting mistakes of the austerity era that took years to undo despite the obvious consequences.

 “NCHDs cannot do any more, they are already working excessive hours, under consistent and sustained pressure to plug gaps in the system while at the same time trying to train, study and sit exams.  It’s incomprehensible that the HSE expects them to do more.”

She concluded: “We await the HSE response but we are very clear, the IMO will not allow NCHDs to be further exploited and will take all necessary action, including industrial action, to ensure NCHD contracts are honoured and the practice of working unsafe and illegal hours stops.  Patients and those working in our health services deserve to be treated safely.”

Earlier today, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ staff panel of health unions stated it was not consulted on this extension of the HSE recruitment embargo. It said “this is in breach of the requirement for proper consultation with the unions” on such matters.

On 13 October, HSE CEO Mr Bernard Gloster announced a recruitment embargo on a number of grades including service NCHD posts, healthcare assistants and home help staff. Today the embargo was extended to all staff, except consultants, NCHDs in training, and 2023 graduate nurses/midwives.

The staff panel stated that the effect of this embargo and the freezing of appointments will be to encourage healthcare staff to seek employment abroad. 

“The group of unions has today requested an urgent meeting with the HSE but state that the HSE has declined to meet with them on this matter. The unions will be consulting with their respective executive councils and members on their response to this announcement.”

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