The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has begun meeting with hospital groups seeking curtailment of services against a backdrop of more than 1,300 vacancies in nursing and midwifery posts.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, said areas most likely to be affected were Monday to Friday services, including outpatients and rehabilitation, as well as elective surgery and the closure of non-essential wards.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said it was unacceptable that the HSE had failed to fill 1,317 funded posts and questioned where the money has gone.
“The money was allocated so what was done with it?” Ms Ní Sheaghdha asked. “These weren’t aspirational posts. They were funded because they were necessary.”
She said that, as far as the INMO was concerned, there had been a ban on staff recruitment for months, with HSE bosses instructing hospital groups and community organisations (CHOs) to live within budget.
“They [the HSE] are saying there is no moratorium, but there is,” said Ms Ní Sheaghdha, adding that the INMO had written several times to HSE bosses, including CEO Paul Reid, asking for an assessment of the risk posed by the high level of vacancies, but no response has been made.
“There is now a serious risk entering the system, particularly in midwifery,” she said.
INMO figures show one in six funded midwifery posts are unfilled.
The Midwives Association of Ireland said if the figures are correct “they represent a risk to midwives and the delivery of safe, woman-centred care”.
Association chair Patricia Hughes said: “I’d certainly be worried about the quality of care and level of burnout.”
The HSE said it “does not have a recruitment ban or moratorium in place”.
“There is ongoing capacity for recruitment of newly funded posts and replacement of critical clinical posts within frontline services,” said a HSE spokeswoman.
However, the HSE conceded there are controls in place “to ensure that the HSE is demonstrating that it is living within the available resources provided to it by Government”.
“This does mean that in some hospital groups and CHOs non-critical replacement posts will be paused,” the spokeswoman said.
She said the preference was for these controls “to remain in place for as short a period as necessary...until there is satisfactory evidence of traction and delivery of balanced financial plans”.
Separately, the Government will today publish the report of the independent review group established to examine private activity in public hospitals. It is understood that taking private practice out of public hospitals will take 10 years and cost more than €6.5bn.