HSE staff given two days’ leave to attend Galway race festival

HEALTH Service Executive staff in Galway have been given leave to attend the Galway Races despite reductions in staffing levels and cutbacks in frontline services across the organisation.

Yesterday the HSE West confirmed clerical and administration grades had been granted two race days to attend the festival which begins on Monday.

The concession has been granted at a time when the HSE is planning to cancel all elective surgery at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway for the last four months of the year as part of a cost containment plan. The hospital will also close for three weeks from Monday. The HSE said next week’s closure, which also coincides with race week, “represents the normal theatre closures for Merlin Park University Hospital during that time”.

Niall O Brolcháin, Green Party senator and party spokesman on health, said he was disappointed the tradition of days off for race week was allowed to continue for HSE staff, at a time when cutbacks were being implemented in other areas of health.

He said: “I think, given the times that are in it, we need, like the Fianna Fáil tent, to put these kind of practices behind us.”

Two months ago, when the Irish Examiner asked if the HSE intended to grant staff race days this year, given the level of cutbacks, they replied that they were “reviewing the approach to this issue in light of reduced staffing levels in 2010 and the need to maintain essential frontline services”.

However, the review resulted in no change at all to last year, when staff were also granted two race days on the proviso that they show up to work until 11am both days at which point they were free to go.

The HSE pointed out that the concession has been in place since the 1970s when the Western Health Board ran the show, but the HSE was established to stamp out precisely this type of anomaly and standardise work practices across the health sector.

A HSE statement yesterday said they were “currently in the process of standardising leave across the system”.

In the meantime, it confirmed that Galway University Hospitals and Merlin Park University Hospital, along with most acute hospitals, “have over the years reduced service in July and August”.

The statement said these “seasonal arrangements” facilitate staff in availing of leave, “due to the limitation of locum cover during the holiday period”.

“These arrangements also facilitate the hospitals in carrying out essential maintenance and deep cleaning to ensure they maintain the highest standards in relation to infection control.”

Fortunately for the people of Galway, hospitals and community services will “still be providing outpatient clinics” at this time.

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