Strong backing for Leo over Christmas leave in health sector
LEO Varadkar received backing from patient representatives and business bodies yesterday as he repeated his criticism of health sector staff for taking too many holidays over the busy Christmas period.
The Taoiseach, who was in Helsinki, brushed off calls to apologise for his comments and said workers in other sectors don’t take long holidays during their busiest periods.
He said: ‘Every business, every industry, every service, has a period of peak demand. If you are working in retail it is the week leading up to Christmas... it makes sense, if you are running your business well, to always make sure that you always match peak demand with peak resources. It should be the norm in the health service as well.’
Groups representing patients and businesses have backed Mr Varadkar’s remarks.
Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) boss Neil McDonald said it is ‘absolutely normal’ that leave is minimised in any business that has a seasonal peak. ‘Leave planning is a relatively easy exercise in any service and business,’ he told the Irish Daily Mail.
Mr McDonald added: ‘It shows you the strength of unions that people are actually complaining about this in the health service.’
The chairman of the Irish Patients’ Association, Stephen McMahon, said the Taoiseach was being ‘proactive’ in his comments. He said: ‘Christmas Day is just another day in health care provision. Patients don’t make appointments to be sick.’
Elaborating on his comments during his Finnish trip, the Taoiseach said: ‘Peak demand happens in our health service in the first two weeks of January. Therefore, it makes sense that the minimum number of staff should be on leave during that period. No beds should be closed because people are on leave. The emergency department and medical consultants should be there.’
He added: ‘It shouldn’t be a controversial comment to say that when we have peak demand, when patients need our staff most, they should be there.
‘We have a period between Christmas and the New Year, 12 days between December 22 and January 3, and seven of those are weekends and bank holidays when hospitals operate effectively on a skeleton staff, when radiology departments and labs don’t work at full throttle.
‘So patients come in, they don’t get their tests, they don’t get their diagnoses, and the numbers (waiting) go up and up and up. That needs to change this year.’
Mr Varadkar joked that he wished he had the authority to direct the HSE on the issue. ‘Maybe we would have a lot less difficulty than we do in our health service. Ultimately under law the health service is run by the HSE, but I am saying to the HSE what I think should be done,’ he said.
However, in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Taoiseach of being ‘narky’ in saying that the annual winter crisis was ‘all the fault of nurses and consultants’.
He said: ‘The bottom line is that he insulted those at the front line. It was a classic case of “blame somebody else other than me”. He attacked successive Fine Gael ministers for producing winter plans that apparently had no impact. We were told every year they would have a great impact and now, hey presto, when we asked where the latest winter plan is, he said it is the fault of the nurses and doctors. Apparently, they do not turn up at all at Christmas time.’
And Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the Taoiseach was going about solving the problem in the wrong way.
He said: ‘There may indeed be scope to change rostering at Christmas time, but the Taoiseach should not blame hospital staff, as he did.
‘Rostering and ensuring the presence of sufficient staff is a management issue and should be addressed through constructive engagement with trade unions, and not with abuse.’
However, Fine Gael Minister of State Damien English backed Mr Varadkar, saying that enough staff must be available and managed effectively over Christmas to ensure that patients are discharged when they are ready.
Figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation show the numbers waiting on trolleys for hospitals beds is already reaching worryingly high levels weeks ahead of the busy Christmas period. The INMO found 591 admitted patients were waiting for beds yesterday morning, with 433 waiting in emergency departments, while 158 were in wards elsewhere in hospitals.
‘Needs to change this year’
‘Taoiseach should not blame staff’
THE Taoiseach has been asked to apologise for his criticism of staff shortages in hospitals over the Christmas break. Leo Varadkar was, however, merely pointing out an uncomfortable truth, namely that holiday rosters are arranged in such a way that only skeleton staff work over what is the busiest time of year because of seasonal diseases such as the flu.
Far from apologising, the Taoiseach insisted that even radiology departments and laboratories should remain open, and it is hard to argue. In the real world, leave is not allowed during busy periods.
Firefighters would not expect Halloween off. Car salesman would not be absent from the showrooms in the busy registration period at the start of the new year. Retail staff know they will have to be back in work a day or two after Christmas for the annual sales events.
Doctors and nurses, therefore, cannot be surprised if they are asked to operate a full service over the Christmas and new year holiday and, far from apologising, Mr Varadkar is correct to dig his heels in and call for an end to this unjustifiable undermanning.
Visit: Finnish prime minister Juha Sipilä with Leo Varadkar yesterday