HSE cannot provide certainty to workers on a career break

01 March 2024

Responses to Parliamentary Questions put down by Labour health spokesperson Duncan Smith reveal that the HSE cannot provide certainty to workers on a career break that they will not be impacted by the HSE recruitment freeze.

Deputy Smith said:

“The fact that the HSE cannot provide certainty in regard to workers on a career break being able to return to their roles due to the recruitment freeze is outrageous.

“Every time that the freeze is raised the Taoiseach deflects, pretending that it has no real impact, that the HSE is hiring for new roles.

“How he can square the idea that there is no real recruitment freeze with the fact that those on career breaks have no certainty about returning to their jobs, I do not know.

“The government need to take this seriously and end the recruitment freeze in the HSE today.”


– To ask the Minister for Health if health service workers returning from career breaks will be able to return to work as agreed and not be impacted by the current HSE recruitment freeze; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

There has been an unprecedented level of investment by this Government in the health service workforce in recent years. There has been consistent growth in the workforce each year since 2020, with the growth in the number of staff recruited in 2023 being the highest since the foundation of the HSE.

There are 26,617 more staff working in our health service than there were at the beginning of 2020. That’s a 22% increase in this period and includes an additional 8,414 nurses and midwives; 4,067 health and social care professionals; and 2,872 doctors and dentists.

I am very aware of the pressures that the current recruitment pause is causing on further recruitment. In part the reason is that sanction was provided for approx. 6,000 new staff and the HSE has hired well in excess of 8,000 people.

Unfortunately, that means that there are over 2,000 staff in HSE for where there is no funding to pay their wages. As in any organisation whether it be the Gardaí or the schools, we can’t hire staff with no money to pay them. The CEO and I were left with no choice other than to give clear indication that the HSE cannot continue to hire where there is no funding to meet the wages.

On my recent visit to Sligo, I saw first-hand what the frontline workers are experiencing. We are working on options and looking at ways to address the issue.

As of the end of December 2023, there were 145,985 staff working in our health service, which includes an increase of 8,239 staff in 2023, it is over 2,000 more staff than the HSE were funded to recruit for the year.

While the increase in our workforce has been incredibly positive and has enabled significant improvements in service delivery and reductions in waiting times for patients, it is important that the HSE operate within budgeted levels and that prudent controls are in place to ensure the workforce growth is managed in an affordable and sustainable manner.

I have secured funding for the recruitment of an additional 2,268 staff in 2024, which is outlined in the HSE National Service Plan approved and published on 14 February 2024. The HSE are currently finalising their Pay and Numbers Strategy for 2024.

The finalisation of the Pay and Numbers Strategy will enable the HSE to set out its recruitment targets in each area for 2024 and will inform decisions at local level on the filling of available posts, including those returning to work following a career break.

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