Health sector unions a barrier to reform and progress says Minister

The power of trade unions in the health sector is the greatest barrier to reform and progress, newly appointed minister for state at the Department of Health Jim Daly has said, writes Daniel McConnell

In hard-hitting comments made in an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Daly said the “greatest level of bureaucracy within the health service is at union level” and said his primary concern is how long it takes to negotiate change or reform of any sort.

His comments come as he announced his intentions to deliver plans to enable thousands of elderly people remain in their homes as opposed to having to go into nursing homes.

Mr Daly, who is Fine Gael TD for Cork South West, said he has formed his highly critical view of the influence of unions within the health service over his 14 years as a public representative.

“The unions certainly seem to have a very powerful role and my primary concern is around the time it takes to deliver change because of this additional layer,” he said.

“We all talk about the bureaucracy around the HSE. The largest layer of bureaucracy that I can see within the HSE is at union level based on the amount of time it takes to negotiate change of any sort. That is my concern for reform,” he said.

Mr Daly said the unions’ control is so embedded in the system that it makes reform of the system very difficult.

“To drive policy from an academic desk-top level is very easy and to get additional resources is the easy part, but making it actually happen is far more difficult,” he added.

Mr Daly also said that elderly people are to be given much greater flexibility in what they do to fund their care needs, under radical plans being developed by the Government.

Mr Daly, who has responsibility for the Fair Deal scheme said he wants to encourage older people to have a choice to do what suits them best. Part of his deal is to radically bring in a home-help service, funded through a Fair-Deal type scheme, which would allow a far greater number of elderly people remain in their home.

However, for those who do use Fair Deal, Mr Daly is also looking to encourage people to put their homes on the housing market by helping them to avoid handing over the entire proceeds of the sale to cover their nursing home costs. However, he said any change would not be mandatory.

“The whole basis of this is choice, giving the people involved choice about making the best decisions for their care,” he said.

Speaking yesterday at Glasnevin Cemetery, Health Minister Simon Harris said the goal of the proposed changes is to give flexibility to elderly people.

He said any help the new plans may have to alleviate the country’s housing crisis is a secondary consideration.

“As minister for health, let me be clear, any change to the Fair-Deal scheme will be done with one over-riding objective and that is to help support older people and their families, to empower them and give them more flexibility,” he said.

Speaking at the same event, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said she wants to concentrate on lone parents and children in the budget as they are more at risk than old-age pensioners.

“There are far more vulnerable people than our old-age pensioners. If you look at the poverty index, lone parents and children are more at risk, so we need to look after them. It is not sexy to say we have to look after lone parents but they are most at risk and they need looking after.”

She referenced the child family payment which might address those issues in the budget.

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