Absenteeism in the public sector is viewed by a minority as an ‘entitlement’ and used by some to take a holiday from work, according to the chairman of HSE West, Cllr Padraig Conneely.
Speaking at the April meeting of the forum in Merlin Park Hospital on Monday last, Fine Gael councillor Conneely said he was “particularly concerned about the Friday and Monday phone-in sick days and Tuesdays on bank holidays”.
“I do accept 88 per cent are certified by a GP but I would have concerns over the phone-in sick days which are causing concerns to hospitals and if they are vital links in clinical use, theatres might consequently not be in full swing as the people who are needed to perform in those theatres might not be there, causing delays and cancellation of procedures for people. I don’t think that type of sick leave would be acceptable in the private sector but it seems to be in the public sector; they seem to think they are entitled to take sick leave as a right and if they don’t their colleagues tell them ‘take it, and extend it to a longer leave, maybe a week and you might get a holiday out of it’.”
John Hennnessy, regional manager, HSE West, replied: “Sick leave and absenteeism is a huge issue for us in every hospital; absence level is still much too high. It is a huge inconvenience for patients and care is disrupted because of staff absence; any abuse – and I can say this categorically – of sick leave arrangements will now result in disciplinary action for the staff member involved. There is a full packet of measures to support managers in this.”
Siobhan Patton, HSE West, said she had met with HR representatives in Galway University Hospital and the figure of 4.43 per cent sick leave recorded for March marked a one per cent decrease since the beginning of the year.
“We see this as a positive step. There are very firm control measures in place regarding attendance and sick leave. If someone is off on Friday or Monday they will have a discussion with their manager on return, and if the problem persists they will have a more formal review process.
“Absenteeism is a complex issue and it takes a long time to turn around, so it is about supporting managers and having proper policy in place, because we do have a very generous national sick leave policy – that is currenty under review by Brendan Howlin’s office – and is likely to impact on HSE sick leave schemes.
“We also have an interface with the GPs with 90 per cent of all sick leave now signed off by GPs.”
Cllr Conneely said it was good to see a hard line was being taken on sick leave abuse ‘because the generous sick leave policy is abused by a few with a knock-on financial effect.
“I welcome that the hard line will be taken in the future and will make it that bit more difficult with accountability for people who show a pattern of this type of sick leave.”