HSE pays out €1.1bn in staff overtime

THE HSE has spent more than €1 billion on hospital overtime payments since it was established, the majority of which has been used to plug serious staff gaps linked to its “cost-saving” recruitment embargo.

Details obtained by the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act show nurses, junior doctors and administrative staff are being asked to work long hours, resulting in the major taxpayer bill.

According to the figures, since January 2005 the HSE has spent in excess of €1.1bn on overtime payments at 49 hospitals across the country — the equivalent of just under €500,000 every day on average.

The costs include €112.3 million in 2005, €118.1m in 2006 (figures which do not include the 17 voluntary hospitals), €241.6m in 2007, €248.2m in 2008, and €225.7m in 2009. While reductions were achieved last year, an estimated €200m was still spent on overtime pay-outs.

Among the worst-affected hospitals for overtime costs — which do not include additional payments to medical agencies used to cover HSE staff gaps — was Cork University Hospital, which has spent more than €87m on the issue. Other big spenders include:

* Galway University Hospital — more than €60m since January 2005.

* Beaumont Hospital — average of €16m every year since January 2007.

* The Mater in Dublin — average of €16m every year since January 2007.

The 2010 expense was €167.8m in October and is understood to have reached €200m by December 31.

Last year, a total of 14 of the 20 biggest recipients of overtime payments were junior doctors at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, including a registrar who received €136,692 — almost three times his average salary.

An Irish Medical Organisation’s spokesperson said the expense was not a perk as medics are contractually obliged to work when necessary.

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Liam Doran said the costs meant the recruitment embargo is failing.

“Nurses do not want overtime but according to the HSE’s own figures, there are 2,700 less nursing posts in the system now than in January 2008.

“If you don’t employ staff then what this shows is you are paying more for emergency replacements.”

The Irish Examiner figures come as the LRC ruled that Mayo General Hospital’s junior doctors are contractually entitled to be paid for unrostered overtime. Recommendations for nine other hospitals are expected later this month.

The HSE is seeking to reduce its overall salary costs by up to €259m this year through voluntary redundancies, agency staff pay cuts which caused a nationwide row yesterday and overtime cost changes.

Despite the FoI including a request for further information on the overtime issue, the HSE did not provide the number of hours of overtime worked at each hospital each year and a full breakdown of additional staff requests made by each facility.

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