HSE warns managers liable for excess costs

THE HSE’s emergency cost-cutting drive has resulted in managers at one of the capital’s busiest hospitals being warned they are “personally” liable for any agency worker costs exceeding a newly imposed cap.

The warning has been issued to officials at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, Dublin, just days after the HSE confirmed it is facing a €400 million budget overspend by the end of the year unless action is taken.

Internal correspondence from the HSE’s regional director of operations for Dublin North East, Stephen Mulvany, said from now on, the hospital cannot spend more than €500,000 per month on agency workers, overtime or out-sourced domestic personnel.

The letter stressed that “once the cap is reached any over-payment is a matter for relevant local managers to pay personally”.

Connolly Hospital spent €1.16m on agency workers in the first three months of this year. The facility spent €4.26m in 2010, €4.64m in 2009, €6.92m in 2008 and €5.01m in 2007 — all significantly higher than its pre-recruitment ban average annual cost of €2.5m.

While the hospital’s overtime bill has not been made public, the agency costs are by no means the highest in the country, meaning similar expenditure warnings are likely for other facilities.

Among the hospitals with the highest agency costs are Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda (€3.39m January to March 2011, €11.06m last year) and Cork University Hospital (€2.82m January to March, €7.43m last year).

Other hospitals to have incurred significant agency worker expenses are Cavan General (€2.56m, €9.05m) and Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan (€1.57m, €4.69m).

Among the cutbacks being imposed on health services to help the HSE reduce its deficit are further bed closures at the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Limerick. The HSE yesterday confirmed that 25 more beds at the facility will be closed next week as part of cutbacks — bringing the total number of bed closures at the facility to 49.

The major regional hospital, which has a 500-bed total capacity, was €15m over-budget for the first half of this year.

Among the other cuts being implemented are reductions in overtime for existing workers and agency staff levels — both of which are used to fill chronic staff shortages, partially caused by the recruitment embargo.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has said there are currently more than 1,900 beds closed in hospitals across the country, including long-stay beds.

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