The Irish Patients’ Association made the claim after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and HSE officials locked horns over the issue yesterday.
Under fresh plans aiming to help save the service €80m this year, the INMO has been told that from October, only interns and new graduates will be used to fill vacant posts in busy hospital wards.
The proposed new workers — who will be paid less than fully qualified nurses — will also be tasked with community work to help beef-up HSE staff levels in elderly care services and other areas.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, the INMO hit out at the plans, which were called for as part of the HSE’s commitment to save the State €290m under the Haddington Road Agreement.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran warned that the cuts are decimating frontline services at a time when “there is an ever-increasing demand” on the system.
Mr Doran said the net result will be that “patient care will suffer”. He said the fact the “grievous hits” have emerged less than a week after the Department of Health announced plans to address allegedly sub-standard nurse-to-patient ratios in hospital wards was devastating for workers.
The HSE’s national director of human resources, Barry O’Brien, insisted the €80m “savings” are required as part of the €290m in workforce budget cuts agreed with the INMO under the Haddington Road Agreement.
Rejecting claims the move is about saving money and not service reform, Mr O’Brien said he was “quite satisfied the people we will put in place will be able to ensure quality of care”.
However, Irish Patients’ Association chairman Stephen McMahon told the Irish Examiner the cutbacks risk putting vulnerable peoples’ lives at risk. “This is not a saving if it is going to cost people’s lives,” he said.
“We have only just seen a clinical director at Beaumont raising concerns about services which he believes are unsafe and this is another part of that.”
He added: “What I’m most worried about is will these new nurses be asked to work outside their competencies. Will they be expected to perform duties they are not ready for?”
The HSE’s latest financial controversy can be linked directly back to the difficulties in finalising its budget last December.
After a high-profile but — in some quarters — still-denied = falling out between Health Minister James Reilly and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, health had to accept another €619m in cuts.
However, two issues remain contentious — €108m in “unspecified” savings and €290m as part of Haddington Road.
The €108m figure remains “unspecified”, while just last month a Government-commissioned report warned health could bring in only €212m of its €290m Haddington Road deal — just €2m off the latest saving price tag.