Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Priority Questions

Health Services Staff

3:00 pm

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Question 4: To ask the Minister for Health and Children the number of submissions of interest made to the Health Service Executive in relation to the voluntary redundancy programme to date; the reason for the delay in introducing the scheme; if she has a plan for a similar scheme for her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42373/10]

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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I announced last week that the Government had decided to fund a special voluntary early retirement and severance package in the health sector. The scheme is aimed at management and administrative staff and support grades.

There is general acceptance of the need to reduce the numbers of management and administrative staff in the health service and I have referred to this on many occasions. For that reason the Government has decided to make €400 million available this year for a specific, targeted voluntary early retirement and severance package for the health service. Applications from management and administrative staff will be prioritised over those from support staff and will be approved automatically subject to the overall expenditure cap of €400 million not being breached. This is not the first initiative aimed at reducing numbers. The number of management and administrative staff , for example, has already fallen by over 1,000 since its peak in September 2007.

I am happy to say that there has been a very high level of interest in the new scheme. As of yesterday, there had been over 8,550 expressions of interest. Management and administrative staff accounted for over 5,300 of that total and support staff accounted for 3,250. Of course, not everyone who expresses an interest in the scheme will apply. The HSE will not know the actual intentions of staff until the closing date for applications, 19 November.

The purpose of the scheme is to achieve a permanent reduction in the numbers employed in the public health service. The scheme is confined to those two categories of health service employees. It is not available to civil servants, including those serving in my Department. The numbers employed in my Department have to be reduced further to 450 by the end of December 2012 and we will use the appropriate mechanisms such as re-organisation and re-allocation of work, including re-deployment where necessary, to meet this target. However, it should be noted that the numbers in the Department of Health and Children have reduced by 25% from 641 to 477 since 2005.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister. Would the Minister not agree that had this initiative been undertaken when the HSE was formed, we could have saved more than €1 billion, at €200 million a year? I am delighted to hear that there is such interest in the scheme. However, I wonder why it took so long to introduce it. The Minister alluded to her Department in her reply. Clearly, there is a need for further reductions in her Department. The Taoiseach's Department organisational review programme found that some staff have little or nothing to do. Perhaps the Minister might explain to us why a redundancy package cannot be made available in a broader sense in her Department also.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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To be fair, when people talk about the Department they need to realise they are speaking about organisations such as the Adoption Board, which has 29 employees. They are not all in Hawkins House. While I accept issues were raised around the organisation and management in the Department and perspectives of staff, I believe that the management team in the Department is implementing the change recommended on foot of that report. I will send the Deputy tabular details on who is in what section of the Department. We are the second largest legislation Department in the State. There seems to be a view that because we established a single entity to deliver health services, the role of Department was diminished, and it was not.

With regard to the redundancy, I would have wished to have done it earlier; that is true. It was not possible to get agreement on the matter when the HSE was being established. It was not possible to reach agreement with the staff representatives on people being made redundant. In fact, not only was it not the view of the staff representatives, but it was the view of the political parties opposite. There was concern at the time that this was part of a great plan to fire thousands of people. That was never the plan. However, the view was taken for many reasons that one needed to establish the organisation to see its strengths and weaknesses before one began a restructuring programme. It has not been possible to get either the money or the agreement before now for this. We have now and let us make it happen, and I hope it does happen.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister make available to members of her Department a redundancy package? I hope when she mentions the Adoption Board that she is not alluding to it as having little or nothing to do.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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They are part of the staff in the Department. That is the point I was making.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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That is right, but I do not think they were singled out in the report as the inference might suggest.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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No, I am simply stating that my Department has reduced its staff by approximately 25%. The Deputy may know, because the Department is dealing with him on his Private Members' Bill, that a very small number of people are in each division of responsibility. This plan is not open to the Civil Service; it is open only to the HSE. The incentivised early retirement scheme is open to public servants but this particular redundancy proposal is confined solely to the HSE.