HSE unable to state how many agency staff recruited in Limerick hospitals

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Labour Party TD Sean Sherlock.

THE Health Service Executive (HSE) paid €7.36 million to private recruitment firms to hire medical staff in the area that includes the University of Limerick Hospitals Group last year but doesn’t know how many workers were recruited as a result.

Figures released in response to Dáil questions from Labour Party TD Sean Sherlock revealed that €15.5 million was paid to private recruitment firms since 2020 with the vast majority spent on staff for the North West and Mid-West finance area.

The area, which includes Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, west Cavan, Clare, Limerick and north Tipperary, spent €1.36 million on recruitment firms in 2020. That rose to €7.36 million last year, and a further €645,231 was paid up to June of this year.

The HSE said the outsourcing of recruitment services to TTM Healthcare for additional staff in the intensive care and high dependency units at University Hospital Limerick as well as recruitment in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim were the main reason for the spend.

Deputy Sherlock accused the HSE of continuing to pay millions of euro of taxpayer funds to private companies with no clear return on investment. He said it is “frustrating and mind-boggling”.

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“We need to grasp the nettle in respect of the recruitment issue. For two years now we are being told the issue is recruitment and that we cannot recruit the staff.

“I don’t think the public are buying into that anymore with over €15 million spent on companies to recruit,” he said.

The HSE said information relating to the number of staff hired through recruitment agencies is not centrally available as it is held in disparate Regional Finance Ledgers.

A spokesperson explained that gathering information on the amount spent across the country on private recruitment firms is “time consuming and resource intensive”.

Responding to Deputy Sherlock, the HSE said: “It is not possible to identify within the finance systems the specific areas for which the recruitment firms were recruiting other than to provide the finance region from which the payments were made.

“The shortcomings in the HSE legacy financial systems are well acknowledged and their replacement by a single standard financial system for the health sector is at the core of the Finance Reform programme initiated by the Department of Health.”

Among the firms used by the the HSE in 2021 was Kate Cowhig International Recruitment which received €2.68m and TTM Healthcare which was paid €2.55m. CPL Solutions was paid €665,592 last year, CPL Healthcare received €553,910 and Tappa Holdings, trading as Red Group got €381,204.

Mr Sherlock said the spend on recruitment firms needs to be drilled down into and justified.

“The Government, through the HSE, has spent €15m in the last two years giving money to recruitment agencies. What are they doing for that money? That is the question. The minister cannot just wash his hands of this.”

He added: “We have been quite patient and people have understood that there is a recruitment issue but it is time for us to start drilling down and getting into the weeds of why we cannot recruit staff in a way that meets the demand and the needs of people who are affected.”