Pay rises for key hospital staff may cut waiting times

Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris

Increasing the pay of hospital consultants and nurses, outside of the new public service deal, is a likely means of resolving the crisis in the health sector.

On foot of the trolly crisis in hospitals last week, the Government has signalled a willingness to identify “pinch points” where the recruitment and retention of staff is difficult.

Health Minister Simon Harris and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have asked the Public Service Pay Commission to examine if pay should be increased in health to address waiting times, but without jeopardising the overall public sector pay deal.

Mr Harris has said that an increase in bed numbers will not solve the crisis (record numbers were waiting on trolleys last week in emergency departments).

“There are two key components to fixing the problem,” he said. “I have heard people talk of progressing Slaintecare and others talk of bed-capacity. Fixing one will not solve the crisis. Increased capacity only works if you put in place reforms of your health service, We shoud not get sucked into silo mentality.”

Mr Harris did point to the work of the commission as a means of improving the rates of pay for staff so as to increase capacity within the system.

“We did agree with government that the Public Service Pay Commission would look at areas where there are retention problems, and that is due to report later this year,” he said.

The bed-capacity report, due to be handed to Mr Harris later this month, will find that 9,000 additional hospital beds will be required over the next decade or so, if the current health system remains unchanged.

The review has concluded, however, that the number of additional beds could be cut to 2,000-2,500 in the years up to 2030, if Sláintecare reform proposals, such as investing heavily in healthcare services in the community, are implemented.

The review says a number of hospitals should be established to deal exclusively with elective or non-urgent cases. This would reduce waiting lists and emergency department overcrowding in acute hospitals. But Mr Harris was criticised by Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary for failing to put in place a funding plan to deliver additional bed-capacity in hospitals.

The Mayo TD and public expenditure spokesman called on Mr Harris to outline a funding plan to increase bed capacity in the health service each year to achieve the recommendations contained in the Bed Capacity Review.

“There is already a €346m black hole in the health estimates, as identified in the HSE Service Plan, which will make the delivery of extra beds, without additional funding, impossible,” said Mr Calleary. “The lack of planning for the provision of extra beds is indefensible. Experts have been calling for additional bed capacity in our hospitals to tackle the overcrowding crisis. The Bed Capacity Review was established to determine the extent of this additional bed-requirement”.

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