Reducing the working week under the public service pay deal would be equivalent to the loss of 1,700 nurses or 4,300 staff in total per year, the Health Service Executive has warned.
In documentation seen by The Irish Times, the HSE said that reducing the working week for public sector staff to levels enjoyed before the 2010 economic crash will cost €296 million a year in health alone.
“These hours will need to be replaced in order to maintain current levels of service and patient care,” the HSE said in a submission to an independent body established by the Government to examine the issue.
The estimate of an almost €300 million cost to health comes just a fortnight after the HSE forecast that providing 10 days leave as a pandemic reward for health staff could cost the taxpayer €377 million.
The Haddington Road deal increased the working week to 37 hours for those who had been working 35 hours or less up to that point. Those working more than 35 hours faced an increase of up to 39 hours.
A move to roll back these hours was a key demand of trade unions in talks that led to the new “Building Momentum” public service pay deal agreed last December.
Under the new public service agreement, the Haddington Road hours were not to be scrapped immediately, but an independent body was set up to report by the end of the year.
The Government has agreed to provide €150 million next year to pay for the recommendations arising from the report of the independent body, which is chaired by former head of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey.
The HSE, in its submission to the body, said that if pre-Haddington Road working hours were restored, it would impact on plans to expand services and “initiatives brought in under Covid would be jeopardised”.
It argued that reduced hours for medical consultants would result in fewer patients being treated, longer waiting lists and reductions in the number of elective surgeries being undertaken.
The HSE said that in nursing alone, returning to the pre-Haddington Road arrangements would involve the “loss of 3.4 million hours” of the equivalent of 1,700 staff. It said this would cost an estimated €114 million per annum.
The HSE said the additional Haddington Road hours had been “majorly beneficial in maintaining services for patients, and in many instances broadening services” in the years since 2013.
It said the hours were also used to cover maternity leave. It said at any one time about 1,000 nurses and midwives were on maternity leave.
The HSE said its workforce is expanding “at record levels” but a lack of supply remains “a major challenge”, which it said a reduction in hours would worsen.