Thursday, 11 October 2012
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter for discussion which I have raised in order to seek clarification for the staff concerned. I am advised that approximately 13 people are on the laundry staff of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. There are also seven contract staff comprised of three full-time and four part-time staff. They provide laundry services for the whole hospital.
The HSE staff have been offered redeployment within a 45 km radius of the hospital to undertake other duties in other areas of suitable employment. I ask the Minister of State to confirm or clarify this point.
I am advised that the unit cost of the HSE staff who provide laundry services in the hospital is quite competitive. This should be borne in mind when any significant changes are being made. I ask whether this proposal will be replicated in other hospitals and whether it will be a prolonged process involving the gradual introduction of contract staff. Is this the intention of the HSE and the Department?
Staff morale is being affected by this uncertainty because they do not know where they will be in one year's time. The HSE is the employer and the staff need to be advised of the future plans. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has announced there will be a further redundancy package for the public sector and I ask if this will be available to staff in these circumstances. The laundry staff in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital would much prefer to remain in their present employment without the need to contemplate the significant changes proposed. I ask the Minister of State to clarify the situation.
The funding pressures now being experienced in the health services mean that the acute sector must reduce its costs in order to deliver the agreed level of activity within the resources available to it. Hospitals must concentrate on maximising efficiency and getting the best possible services for patients from the budgets available to us through cost-containment measures such as a reduction in spending on agency and overtime, a reduction in activity to bring it into line with approved levels, and better management of in-house support services such as catering, laundry and back-office functions. In meeting the challenge of managing within budgets, the focus is on ensuring that essential services are protected and that patient safety and quality remain paramount. Greater efficiencies are possible in both front line and support services. Reductions in costs are currently being realised through measures such as the implementation of the HSE's acute medicine clinical care programme, which has saved 121,003 bed days to date this year. Other clinical programmes are also gradually reducing the average length of stay for patients, which in turn reduces the number of bed days needed. Similarly, the HSE's transitional care initiative is shortening the average length of stay in acute beds by putting in place 190 transitional care beds and 150 rehabilitation beds this year, to which patients can move when appropriate. The Deputy raises the matter of laundry services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. The Department is aware that the provision of these services has been significantly impacted by a number of retirements of staff who, under the current moratorium, cannot be replaced. The Department is also aware that at present there is no capital allocation for the replacement of laundry equipment at the hospital.
The public service agreement outlines the importance of right sourcing: the need to consider whether support services, such as laundry, are best placed in-house, whether it is economically advantageous to outsource these services and whether outsourcing could be disadvantageous to those using these services. In the spirit of that agreement, the health service implementation body has met with local union representatives and local management and discussed the matter at a full hearing. The HSIB has recommended that both parties work together to ascertain the feasibility of providing an in-house laundry service for the region. Site visits have taken place. No decision has been taken but discussions are ongoing and following these discussions, a report will issue with recommendations on which option is more favourable.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I ask him to deal with the point of whether it is intended to make changes in other hospital units. Will the decision with regard to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital be the template for other hospitals? It would be useful if he could clarify that point.
I am not aware if that is the case. One would suspect that in a time of very scarce resources and when we need to continue channelling those scarce resources to the front line of the health service that any efficiencies that can be achieved through outsourcing back office or support services could be replicated across the whole hospital system. I must stress that in the case of Drogheda there is ongoing engagement between management and the trade unions. No decision has been made in this regard and following consideration of the matter, a report will issue with recommendations on which option is more favourable.