Strong back­ing for Leo over Christ­mas leave in health sec­tor

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Se­nan Molony, Emma Jane Hade and Lisa O’Don­nell se­nan.molony@dai­ly­

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

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