Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Cuirim fáilte roimh Mr. Robin Newton. I also give a special welcome to Mr. Paddy Agnew, a former Deputy for Louth, who is in the Public Gallery. He was elected to the Dáil 37 years ago on an anti H-Blocks ticket. This is the first time he has been in Leinster House. I am sure everybody will extend a warm welcome to him. We are delighted he is here. It took him a while but he got here in the end.
It has been confirmed that in the first financial report of the year released by the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, HSE, recorded a deficit of more than €100 million in January and February of this year. Based on that trend, it is likely that the half-year deficit will fall somewhere between €220 million and €300 million and it might be double that for the year as a whole. It is against that backdrop that I want to raise the scandalous spending on agency staff in our health service. Figures released to my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, show that every day in 2017 the HSE spent more than €800,000 on agency doctors, nurses and other staff to fill positions that have been left vacant. That is close to €300 million for the year a whole. That is, as the Taoiseach will agree, a colossal amount to spend on the hiring of temporary staff, which is always more expensive than directly employing personnel. It is a big strain on the health budget.
When we look at the roles temporary staff are filling, the extent of the problem becomes apparent. A total of €105 million spent on hiring agency doctors and dentists and that figure has doubled since Fine Gael came into office in 2011. Some hospitals' dependency on agency staff is mind-boggling. Letterkenny University Hospital spent more than €9 million on agency doctors, Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise spent €8 million and University Hospital Limerick spent more than €5 million.
There is also a severe crisis in nursing. More than €64 million has been spent on hiring agency nursing staff. There is no doubt that these staff provide a necessary function but the reason hospitals are reduced to relying on such costly agency staff is that the Government and the HSE have failed to address the recruitment and retention crisis. Health staff and the unions have consistently reported working conditions, facilities, supports, training opportunities and pay as the causes of the crisis and until these issues are addressed, we will continue to squander large amounts of public moneys in the way I have described. This is bad for workers. It is certainly bad for patients because it compromises continuity of care.
In April a Sinn Féin motion was passed in the Dáil which called for the introduction of recruitment and retention measures based on realistic proposals and which prioritised pay. It called on the Government to work with the unions to draw up a roadmap to full pay equality. Having done nothing thus far, will the Government now commit to acting on that motion in order that our nurses and other health professionals get a fair deal and we can end this ridiculous and excessive use of public money in the health service?