Talks between the Health Service Executive and health sector unions over proposed job cuts and savings in the west adjourned on Tuesday after seven-and-a-half hours.
Representatives from SIPTU, IMPACT, and INMO met with senior HSE management at a Labour Relations Commission hearing held at Merlin Park Hospital; however, an agreement was not reached. It is believed that the issues in dispute were considered by a Joint High Level Group at national level in Dublin yesterday and that it could come back before the LRC at a later date.
The intensive talks follow revelations that a confidential report has advised the HSE to consider axeing up to 1,000 temporary employment contracts across the west region in order to generate savings of between €15 and €20 million over six months. Unions have warned that approximately 200 jobs in Galway city alone could be targeted if the recommendations in the report are implemented.
The report, by consultants Mott and MacDonald, also recommends other cost-saving measures including the curtailment of hospital services such as scaling back elective admissions for a defined period, a needs review of home helps and homecare services, and cuts in overtime. The report, which is believed to have been given to HSE senior management in late June, states that the cost-cutting measures could help reduce the HSE West’s €90 million budget deficit.
According to a statement received from the HSE, “the discussions in the Labour Relations Commission in Galway yesterday [Tuesday] concluded at 7pm. The comprehensive discussions focused on the implementation of cost containment plans based on the mid-year financial position which showed an overrun of €90 million across HSE West before year end. The meeting concluded without formal agreement.
“HSE West needs to proceed with its proposal as soon as possible, given the serious financial challenges faced in the west and in order to deliver on its service targets within budget this year. The financial position in HSE West continues to be monitored closely”.
SIPTU’s Health Services Organiser for Galway, Paul Hardy, said of the hearing: “We spent a whole day talking about plans for cuts to jobs and services without the HSE being able to give us any information on how many jobs they want to cut, where those jobs are, what the people holding these jobs actually do, and most importantly, how on earth they plan to provide the same level of services to the public with hundreds fewer nurses, care assistants, radiographers, porters, and ward clerks.
“The truth is that they can’t slash healthcare jobs without slashing healthcare services. The Clinical Director of Galway’s hospitals, Dr David O’Keeffe, says it can’t be done without affecting patient safety. The HSE West’s nursing planners say that even the present levels of staffing are unsafe. We think that they are right. The people of Galway need some assurances from the HSE on the future of their health services and quickly.”
INMO’s General Secretary Liam Doran said: “This organisation has no difficulty with dealing with significant change, which benefits patients, but we will not stand silent while the public health service is subject to arbitrary cuts being imposed in a manner which is unsafe.”
Mr Doran also said that the INMO will be calling for a national summit involving the Health Minister, Mary Harney, to take place within four weeks which “will attempt to agree a more planned, co-ordinated, safe and appropriate approach to dealing with our budgetary difficulties”.