Varadkar doubles down on call for HSE to limit staff leave over Christmas

The Taoiseach says health should operate like other industries that match resources with demand

Varadkar doubles down on call for HSE to limit staff leave over Christmas

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's official residence in Helsinki, Finland, 07-11-2018. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/AP/Press Association Images

The Taoiseach has doubled down on his call for the HSE to refuse hospital staff annual leave during the Christmas break.

Leo Varadkar said many hospitals are effectively running on a skeleton staff over the holidays – leading to bottleneck of patients in the first week of January.

He said hospital staff should be working 'full whack' throughout what is the busiest time of year for the health service.

Opposition parties have slammed the comments, accusing the Taoiseach of attempting to deflect the blame for hospital overcrowding away from the Government and on to health workers.

"Peak demand"

But speaking to Independent.ie in Finland today, Mr Varadkar doubled down on his comments.

“We know peak demand happens in our health service in the first two weeks of January,” he said.

“No bed should be closed because people are on leave.

“The emergency department and medical consultants should be there.”

Recruitment and retention

The comments have divided the medical profession with many admitting the Taoiseach has a point – while others warn that overcrowding is a result of a lack of capacity rather than staff.

Doctors have also warned that if the HSE was capable of recruiting enough staff to cover leave, there would be no issue.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Dr Peadar Gilligan, the president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said Mr Varadkar’s comments were “misguided.”

“Where we need to emphasis to be is around the recruitment and retention of staff and the available capacity in the system and optimising that capacity by moving patients who longer need hospital care in to nursing homes,” he said.

He said many hospitals are not in a position to keep all their beds open by the end of the year, “because they don’t have the necessary financial resources – and that is something the Taoiseach could most definitely help with.”

On The Pat Kenny Show, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dr Kenneth Mealy said it was an “interesting comment.”

“Clearly, the issues at stake are complex,” he said.

“We know there is always a surge in medical need in the New Year and clearly we need the appropriate skilled doctors and nurses.”

Overcrowding

Meanwhile, today’s figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation show that there are 591 patients waiting on trolleys and in wards for a hospital bed today.

There were 441 patients waiting this day, last year.

Experts are warning this winter could see hospital overcrowding hit new records once again.