Unplanned exit could jeopardise health services

Health managers are seriously concerned about the service implications of the latest HSE exit package which they say is clouded in confusion and has a completely unacceptable timescale which will not enable them to prepare contingency plans to ensure continuity of services.  Maureen Browne reports.

Maureen Browne
Maureen Browne

There is serious concern among health managers at the service implications of the latest HSE targeted voluntary redundancy scheme, which is due to kick in within four weeks and which they say is clouded in confusion and could further jeopardise the health service.

They say the notice they have received is totally inadequate to enable it to be implemented in the proposed timescale or to prepare contingency plans to ensure services are not put at risk by departures.  They are concerned at the lack of clarity as to how it will be targeted, fearing that it could further jeopardise services which have already lost many staff.

However, this was thrown in doubt when it was reported that the HSE had sought the exclusion of health staff from this provision.

They say that in the absence of any clarity about how it will operate and how it will be targeted it is very difficult to do any advance planning or even to calculate staff entitlements correctly.

In a circular to managers, HSE National Director of HR, Barry O’Brien said a targeted Voluntary Redundancy Scheme would be made available from January 1, 2014 “which will allow services re-structure and reconfigure while at the same time deliver essential cost savings and further reduce headcount in line with our Employment Control Framework.”

Mr. O’Brien said that “as an additional enabler to facility cost reduction it has been decided that a review of all applications for the Incentivised Career Break Scheme (ICBS), made available earlier this year, should now be undertaken. The additional hours available under Haddington Road should deliver capacity to facilitate applicants who wish to avail of the ICBS.”

“I don’t think the health service could cope with another exit shock like the last time.”

The initial understanding was that in line with other public servants, healthcare staff who retired under the scheme before August 2014 would have their pensions calculated on the pre-pay cut salaries that applied before the Haddington Road Agreement.

However, this was thrown in doubt when it was reported that the HSE had sought the exclusion of health staff from this provision.

Said one manager “We have lots of staff asking about the scheme, but basically we have no concrete information about it or the basis on which entitlements- which in any case can be extremely complex – will be calculated.  Even if we had clarity on the basis of entitlements, these have to be supported by documentation and that all takes time and it is one of the busiest times of the year for our HR and payroll departments.

This kind of exit package needs to be laser guided but at present we have no idea how it will be targeted.

“We can ill afford to lose any more people and there is no indication of how this promised targeting will be done – will it be at grades or departments and can we re-hire on contract. This is all coming when there is a lot of re configuration going on.There have been so many mistakes made in previous schemes that you wonder if we have learned anything.”

Another manager said he was very concerned at the prospect of further loss of corporate knowledge from the service. He said he would also like to know who would do the targeting and the criteria which would be used. With the current moratorium there was already a very uneven staffing in some areas. He believed it would also be necessary to establish an appeals mechanism, if the process was to be seen to be fair. “

Managers generally believed that there should be precise information on when the scheme would be activated, how targeting was to be carried out, the basis on which entitlements were to be calculated, and adequate opportunity to calculate people’s entitlements accurately.

It has been reported that HSE management wants to assign a specific date for staff who want to retire rather than having potentially large numbers departing at the same time next summer so that they could generate savings on the payment of lump sums for retiring personnel.

“We have read this in the papers, but it would be nice to learn it officially,” said one manager.  “This would go some way to alleviating the difficulties where too many people leave on the same day without time for a contingency arrangements. I don’t think the health service could cope with another exit shock like the last time.  This kind of exit package needs to be laser guided but at present we have no idea how it will be targeted. Will it focus on somebody aged 50 with 30 year so experience or will age and service be criteria at all.  It is also imperative that it be targeted around skills mix as for example we couldn’t lose all our finance people in one day. I know the HSE is looking at a single HR and financial systems but they are probably three to five year projects.

“If you have 20 people in a department you might be able to lose two but it you have three people it is very hard to lose one.”

Several managers said there was a longer period needed for people to make up their mind and to allow managers to plan for continuity of care, contingency, cross cover or alternative arrangements.  There was a lot of talk about shared service but many of the different systems did not have a shared IT infrastructure.

Managers also suggested that initial expressions of interest should be made locally “Last time people had to express interest to the HSE which meant a delay in their employing organisation being informed and our knowing who had applied.  If first expressions of interest were made to us we could say if we supported them or not and if we did not support an application there would no sense in submitting it to the HSE.