Health Minister Simon Harris is to draw on a rarely used legal provision to force the HSE to recruit an additional 1,208 nurses and midwives by year end as part of an agreed workforce plan.
The provision, contained in the 2010 Health Act, allows the minister of the day to issue a direction with which the HSE must comply. It is the second time in just over a week that legal force has been applied to compel the HSE into action.
Last week, a HSE official was asked in the High Court to swear to abide by the terms of a settlement in the case of Grace, a woman awarded a €6.3m HSE-funded package in compensation for appalling mistreatment while in State care.
Mr Harris told delegates attending the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) annual conference in Wexford that his commitment to implementing the workforce agreement, hammered out at the Workplace Relations Commissions (WRC) was “absolute”.
“I have heard loud and clear from your union that we are only going to succeed if we attach the kind of priority to recruitment and retention that has never been seen before and that is exactly what we are doing,” Mr Harris said. “These are not just soothing political words. My statement of commitment is matched by an unprecedented direction to the HSE.”
The Section 10 direction will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and will be lodged with the WRC. It will require the HSE to report to the minister on progress as part of the 2017 National Service Plan. The HSE will also have to provide reports in June, September and December on recruitment. The reports will be shared with the INMO and lodged with the WRC.
Mr Harris said there were two parts to section 10, one of which allowed the minister to write to the HSE seeking information and a second part where he could direct them to implement a policy.
“Long-standing civil servants will tell you it’s used very, very rarely,” he said.
The workforce plan also delegates responsibility for recruitment of nurses and midwives to directors of nursing and this was confirmed in a HSE circular yesterday afternoon, the minister said. He also said the HSE would be writing to all graduating nurses and midwives offering them full-time contracts.
Responding to the minister’s speech, INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said the organisation viewed the legislative underpinning of the nursing and midwifery workforce plan as “critical” and the “first step in moving towards staffing levels which are determined by nurses and midwives using evidence-based practice”.
She said it would also be “respected without question by health employers and future health ministers ... and indeed the Houses of the Oireachtas”.
On the nurses’ demands for pay parity with allied health professionals, the minister said the pay issue was “for a separate process” and that the Public Service Pay Commission would provide an “evidence-based and an informed document to have the discussion on”.
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