Budget cuts expected to hit the HSE hard

The Government has experienced yet another backlash against the plans for next month’s budget, following the announcement that there will be cuts of up to €1bn in the health service.

 The plans for the HSE include the controversial voluntary redundancy deal, which hopes to cut 5,000 jobs by Christmas, and a minimum budgetary cut of €600m which will come from reducing expenditure in areas including staff overtime and from cutting services.

Minister for Health Mary Harney said regarding the cuts, “It’s an enormous amount of money and given that pay rates can’t be cut as a result of the Croke Park agreement and 70 per cent of our budget is pay. You’re talking about taking that amount of money out of the remaining 30 per cent and that’s going to be really challenging. So we have to look at everything, our procurement processes, our staff ratios, five-day wards, more day activity, all the agenda items that have been pursued in recent years will be pursued even more aggressively over the next phase.”

The proposed plans have been met with angry reactions from both unions and politicians, with Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin commenting that the cuts would “devastate the public health system and cost lives”.

Joanne Coogan, a nurse at St. James’s Hospital, agrees with these views. “It’s absolutely outrageous,” says Miss Coogan. “We thought that our pay being protected by the Croke Park Agreement was a step forward, but we’ve basically gone five steps back in the process. Many of my colleagues depend on overtime, and if that’s going, along with us expecting big increases in tax and cuts in children’s allowances. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Miss Coogan also expressed her outrage at the voluntary redundancy scheme on offer. “We’re being given a few weeks to basically decide whether we want to abandon our career. In a different climate maybe it would be ok, but let’s face it, if we take redundancy, there’s not really any chance of us getting another job in the future.”

The redundancy package is expected to be an average severance pay-out of €80,000 for clerical and support staff, with senior management set to receive €200,000 plus pensions. The HSE website offers a link to a “redundancy calculator” to help health sector workers decide whether to take the redundancy package. Minister Harney said that the idea of the redundancies was to get rid of jobs which would not need to be replaced.

The announcements of the HSE cuts have stirred up anger from the public, with several high profile incidents occurring involving Minister Harney. Upon visiting Cherry Orchard Hospital on 1 November, Councillor Louise Minihan from Éirigí threw red paint at Minister Harney in the midst of a small protest at the opening of Cherry Orchard’s new Primary Care and Mental Health Centre. In addition to this, on 12 November, the Minister’s car was pelted by protesters with eggs and cheese as she arrived to open an endoscopy unit at Nenagh General Hospital in Co. Tipperary.

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