HSE to axe overtime rates to save €25m

THE HSE is considering offering unpaid leave to staff, cutting all overtime payments and increasing the working hours of staff in a bid to break even this year.

Yesterday, it emerged that the HSE is considering the suspension of the issuing of new medical cards and severe cutbacks in home help hours and personal assistant hours as part of projected savings of €57.5 million.

Now, it is understood that the HSE is considering proposals put forward by the Department of Health targeting payments to staff.

A document seen by the Irish Examiner confirms the HSE is now considering that only flat-rate payments be paid for overtime between now and the end of the year; the deferral of all increment pay increases; increased working hours across all staff categories; reduced period of uncertified sick leave to tackle absenteeism costs and the offering of unpaid leave to staff.

SIPTU health division organiser, Paul Bell said last night: “Any further attempt by the HSE to dilute the conditions and pay of our members will be met head on in a very robust manner.”

The document comes against the background of the HSE setting up a special group putting in place contingency plans in case it runs out of money in December as it seeks to put in place cost-saving measures totalling €300m.

The Department of Health document calculates that the saving on overtime payments would be around €25m. The paper argues: “While overtime would be paid at a flat rate, it would still allow staff continue to generate additional earnings through overtime.”

On increasing staff hours, the paper states: “An additional 2.5 hours to the working week of nurses would add an additional 6.6% capacity and adding five hours to management/ administration would add 12% capacity.”

On offering staff unpaid leave or reduced working hours, the document states that the impact from such an initiative cannot be determined in advance, but states “there can be no backfilling or use of either agency or overtime to plug these gaps”.

The document states that absenteeism has fallen, but remains above target levels “and the possibility of reducing uncertified sick leave from seven days to two days should be explored”.

A spokesperson for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said last night: “There have been no discussions on these issues with the unions so we have no comment to make at the moment except that these measures would be in breach of the Croke Park agreement.

A statement from the HSE yesterday said the measures “are merely proposals”.

“In keeping with the current legislation, there will be no cap placed on the issuing of medical cards for the remainder of 2011.

“However, it is likely that the current funding will fail to meet the planned output for many services for the remainder of this year.”

Age Action warned that plans to cut back on home help hours by 600,000 — or 24% — and removing 400,000 personal assistant hours — a drop of 61% “would have disastrous implications for older people, and widespread knock-on effects for the public health service”.

Age Action spokesman, Eamon Timmins said: “The purpose of the home help service is to assist vulnerable people to remain living in their own homes and avoid having to be admitted to nursing homes, therefore such radical cuts would have a hugely negative impact on the well being of older people, and place unsustainable demands on the health services.”

Jonathan Irwin chief executive, Jack & Jill Foundation said the proposed measures are “an absolute false economy and is going to cost more in the long run, putting huge levels of stress on the most vulnerable in society, yet again”.

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