Fórsa calls out failure to include all health staff in assault scheme

Ireland’s largest public service union, Fórsa, has today (Wednesday) criticised what it describes as multiple failures of leadership by the Department of Health.

In an opening statement to the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee this morning, convened to discuss the welfare and safety of workers and patients in the public health service, Fórsa officials said the department’s current approach to leadership involves ignoring staff concerns about a broad range of issues.

These include the withdrawal of protections for staff experiencing long Covid conditions, a failure to expand the assault scheme to include all health staff, in addition to what Fórsa described as ‘arbitrary’ exclusions of some health workers from the pandemic recognition payment, and the ongoing issue of pay inequality between public health service workers and those in the community and voluntary sector.

Fórsa officials Ashley Connolly and Linda Kelly told the committee that the Department of Health’s approach to these issues was either to ignore them or to tie them up in long, drawn-out industrial relations processes “with little or no chance of a meaningful, effective outcome.”

They said the union’s position is that the department’s approach reflects “problematic cultural issues across the sector.”

Ms Kelly said: “It tells our members that that they are not valued, that their work is not important, respected or recognised and that their passion to do the best for the citizens arriving in front of them is misplaced.”

Ms Connolly also outlined a ‘significant’ failure, over multiple health service delivery plans, “to invest in clerical and administrative staff as well as HSCPs (health and social care professionals), pharmacy and other grades in a strategic and planned manner to meet service needs.”

She said a direct result of this failure to invest in recruitment has created pressure points across the health sector, most notably in the Assessment of Need, Children’s Disability Network teams, mental health, payroll, pensions, and outpatient services.

In its recommendations, Fórsa urged the committee to recognise the imminent transition to regional health authorities (RHAs) as a ‘pivotal’ moment to challenge the current leadership approach of the Department of Health, and to ensure that RHAs are appropriately resourced, in order to foster a culture of meaningful leadership in each regional area.

Fórsa also recommended the committee seek an urgent workforce retention plan from the Department of Health for all grades, and as part of that plan seek ring-fenced funding for continuing professional development for all grades, and to ensure such funding is equitably distributed.

The union also urged the committee to consider the department’s failure to engage on community and voluntary sector pay terms. Ms Connolly said: “We can’t seriously discuss the welfare and safety of staff if we don’t address fundamental issues of financial need in a cost-of-living crisis.”

The union has backed a course of indefinite strike action in community and voluntary agencies delivering health services, and is currently identifying agencies in which to ballot. Fórsa’s own research has found that community and voluntary organisations are losing up to 30% of staff each year, with workers leaving to avail of better terms in the HSE and other employments.

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