University and Merlin Park hospitals paid almost €1.5 million to private security firms over the past five years for patient security and other security work, it was revealed this week.
Slamming the spend as “staggering” Cllr Padraig Conneely, the chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum, is calling for an urgent review of the matter.
“At a time when UHG is almost €7m over budget for the first four months of 2011, to pay €1.48m to private security firms is mindboggling. HSE management in UHG and Merlin Park must urgently review their spending budget and see where savings can be made without impacting on frontline services. Hiring private security firms at such a cost is questionable.”
He says he cannot understand why the health authority needs to hire private security in addition to in-house security.
“UHG and Merlin Park hospitals are not high security jails, why is there a need for such a security presence? Why must the hospitals bring in outside security when they have their own internal system? Why is this necessary? What are the private firms doing, are they patrolling outside the hospitals?
“I’ve never heard of any trouble or security issues at University or Merlin Park hospitals. There may be occasional problems with drunkenness among patients in A&E but that’s about it. If there is any rowdiness it is a matter for the Gardai and the hospital’s own security staff are always on hand. The hospitals are alive at night with doctors, nurses and porters. It is a mystery to me what all this additional security is doing. They can’t go into a ward and pull out a patient. If there is a break-in, again it is a Garda problem
“A staggering amount of money is being spent on this service which I feel is not necessary. That would be one way to cut costs. If you just took away one private security person that would not affect patient care but it would save money.”
The former mayor and Fine Gael city councillor says he is seeking clarification from the HSE West about the role of these outside firms and the necessity for this additional service.
“I’m looking for a more detailed report on this whole issue. I’m going to be asking what do these firms do? What is their role and why is this service costing the HSE West so much? To me €1.5m is an unnecessary amount of money to be paying out. This service could be cut back and no one would complain. In this day and age when there are cutbacks everywhere people would not miss this service, no one knows what they are doing.”
Cllr Conneely believes the cash-strapped local public hospitals must look at every opportunity to save money during the economic downturn. Cuts to areas which would not impact directly on frontline services must be considered, especially when the HSE West is already running over budget this year, he says.
In a statement the HSE West says Galway University Hospitals [UHG and Merlin Park] provide a comprehensive security service on a 24 hours a day 365 day per year basis to ensure the safety and security of all patients, staff and visitors to University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital.
“Providing a high profile and visible service creates a safe and secure environment at the hospital sites. The security service maintains the safety of all persons, and their belongings, on the hospital sites. This includes the protection of patients, staff, service providers and visitors against violent acts or abuse and protecting the sites and property of the hospitals, patients and visitors against theft, vandalism, malicious tampering and criminal damage and reduces the level of risk, injury, loss or damage to any person on the sites.”
It outlines that portering, catering, cleaning, linen and security are provided through a combination of contracted out and in-house services in most hospitals. At the UHG site, the security service is provided by a combination of HSE and contract security staff while the security service at Merlin Park is provided by a private security firm.