The Public Service Agreement is an essential "enabler" for the health sector, to allow services to respond the healthcare needs of the population in an appropriate and sustainable manner, against a backdrop of very significant reductions in financial and staff resources. The Agreement also facilitates the implementation of major reforms aimed at improving access to services, as well as improving quality and safety, achieving better value for money and improving health outcomes at a population level.
The introduction of revised working patterns, such as an extended working day (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and new rostering arrangements, has potential significantly to improve the responsiveness and efficiency of health service delivery. Agreement was reached in February 2011 with the relevant staff unions (MLSA, IMPACT and SIPTU) on the introduction of an extended working day for medical laboratory staff. This affects some 3,000 staff, who now have a liability to be rostered between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. from Monday to Friday. The HSE has projected annual savings of at least €5m arising from this agreement. Discussions are at present underway in relation to revision of work patterns for radiography staff and the HSE has also tabled proposals for more flexible rostering arrangements for nursing staff.
To date, the HSE has submitted two detailed progress reports on the implementation of the Health Sector Action Plan under the Public Service Agreement to the national-level Implementation Body. These refer to the periods March 2010-March 2011 and April 2011-September 2011 respectively. Sectoral progress reports are published on the Implementation Body's website www.implementationbody.gov.ie
Significant achievements reported to date include the transfer of the Community Welfare Service from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection, the centralisation of medical card processing (with estimated annual savings of €20m), implementation in late 2010 of a voluntary early retirement scheme and voluntary redundancy scheme for certain staff categories, under which 1,626 WTE staff left the public health service, and internal redeployment of a further 750 staff.
There must remain a clear focus on the part of all parties to the Agreement on achieving the changes and in particular the efficiencies which the PSA makes possible. The HSE will continue to pursue further initiatives with the staff side to ensure that all possible benefits from the Agreement are achieved.