Health chiefs were tonight accused of trying to cod the public by claiming a recruitment freeze would not impact on patient care.
Trade unions for workers in the Health Service Executive (HSE), voluntary hospitals and agencies insisted proposals on staffing restrictions would have a devastating impact on frontline staff and services.
Impact national secretary Kevin Callinan and Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) general secretary Liam Doran accused the HSE of trying to downplay the inevitable damage its proposed cuts would have on patients.
Mr Callinan said, if implemented, the policy would see drastic cuts in services and intolerable conditions for staff.
“The HSE is trying to cod the public,” he added.
“Impact members are not going to co-operate with its attempts to impose unilateral cuts to jobs, services and incomes.”
The pair maintain a draft HSE circular yesterday revealed plans for a total moratorium on recruitment, promotions and acting appointments across the agency and voluntary hospitals and agencies, with effect from March 26.
The unions said the most worrying aspect of the leaked draft circular is the decision to stop the renewal of up to 14,000 temporary contracts and 3,000 locum contracts held by staff performing essential frontline or support services.
The INO calculate this will include more than 6,000 nursing jobs, while a range of specialist therapists and admin staff will also be affected.
Mr Doran said the proposals would compromise care.
“These are very sinister developments,” added the INO chief.
“There has been rhetoric about maintaining essential frontline services, but that rhetoric has now been shed and these proposals are absolutely capable of undermining and compromising patient care.
“We all recognise there is a financial problem in the country, but this is an impossible circular from a nursing perspective.”
The unions said the HSE circular only gives firm guarantees for “critical” frontline services that, if strictly applied, would mean non-renewal of the vast majority of existing temporary contracts when they expire, except “in very limited circumstances” and with “the prior sanction of the Minister for Finance.”
Mr Doran and Mr Callinan refuted HSE claims that frontline services would not be affected“.
Both also maintain the circular will force managers to take risks with patient safety in emergency situations, because it threatens them with disciplinary action if they fill emergency vacancies in such circumstances – even on a temporary basis.