HSE redundancy scheme a fiasco

The HSE early retirement and voluntary redundancy schemes closed at midnight on 19 November. So are these schemes the solution to getting rid of surplus HSE staff or just another example of inept health service management? By Sara Burke

The schemes are a way of cutting down HSE staff numbers but they are another exemplar of ineptitude of its architects – the Department of Finance and the Minister of Health. The numbers applying are well below the target, the scheme was totally unplanned and is being badly managed.

Announcing the scheme which costs €400 million, Minister Harney said it hoped to achieve a reduction of 5,000 HSE management and administrative staff and support staff would be considered after them.

As of Friday evening just over 3,000 people had applied for the scheme with about 70% of these coming from management/administration grades and 30% from support staff, well short of Mary Harney's aim.

There is a general consensus that there are too many management and admin people in the HSE so what's wrong with this scheme? Quite simply, it seems like sabotage from the start – it:

  • has too short a time frame – it was announced on 1 Nov and people were expected to make this life changing decision by today.
  • was badly orchestrated – it is open to all who apply so there is no way of getting rid of people you need to and keeping the good people.
  • has no system in place of managing who leaves from where and what gaps are left – due to the moratorium – these people cannot be replaced except if deemed necessary through redeployment.
  • was a directive from the Departments of Health and Finance – the HSE did not design the scheme but it would be hard to design it in a worse way – just like the HSE establishment.

So why was a scheme like this not introduced when the HSE was set up – when 11 health boards and many other health agencies were amalgamated?

  • The establishment of the HSE was a fiasco from the start, it was badly planned, it had no leader, an ex-banker was acting CEO for the first seven months
  • Even the unions and the DoH pre-2005 were calling for redundancy and early retirement schemes, for some rationalisation of old health boards – but in absence of that a deal was done with the acting CEO that no one would lose their job – this was a very bad deal under the stewardship of Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern.
  • it was a very costly deal – up to €1 billion has been wasted since 2005
  • Minister of Finance Charlie McCreevy was adamant no such package could be in place – as it was happening at same time as decentralisation.

So how is this deal working out? Although there were over 9,000 expressions of interest in people signing up, once again people on the ground are saying it's a fiasco. People in management/admin grades are being told they are not eligible even though they want to take the scheme and are not frontline workers.

Many people have still not got estimates as to how much they are entitled to. It is very complicated to work out lump sum entitlement due to length of time in services and also because there is a very complex grade system in the HSE.

The severance is five weeks per year of service with a maximum of two years' pay – so a middle manager with a salary of €50k and 35 years of service, is entitled to a €100k lump sum.

Some managers would earn much more and be entitled to more but others such as support staff such as those in catering or reception would earn very little and often women have broken time in the HSE and are not fulltime workers so they would get a lot less.

There are also strict conditions as to whether you can work or not afterwards. Moreover, the chances of getting a job in the current environment are not high, and some workers pre-1995 are not entitled to social welfare – so it is not considered a very good deal.

Another huge problem with the scheme is the open nature of it so there is no way of knowing what the staffing gaps will be. Taking 3-5,000 people out of the system overnight will have an impact yet with the plan in place there is no way of planning how to manage that and how to fill those gaps.

The only trend the HSE could tell me was that there is more interest coming from the South and West of the country in line with the age profile of staff there. The HSE say they will not know details of roles until all applications are in and processed by the end of November but then there is just a four week turn around as all have to be out of their jobs by 1 Jan 2011.

So there is little, if any, time to train people in – this may be okay in some areas but not in others – in a way it is a total lottery what people will come out of the system and where. The HSE managers are just hoping they can manage "fingers crossed we can cope" and stressed they would be prioritising services and pay points.

No matter what way you look at it, it is the worst possible way to pull 3-5000 people out of the system; it is like doing it blind folded and just hoping for the best the whole system does not fall over... Even HSE management say while they were looking for a scheme like this, this is not the way to do it.