CLERICAL staff at Ennis Hospital were given computer memory sticks to complete their work at home, on an unpaid basis. The Clare Champion has learned that this work included letters to patients informing them of appointments and insurance claims but excluded patient medical records or information about individual medical conditions
IMPACT issued a recent instruction to its low paid members to desist from the practice of removing any Health Service Executive (HSE) documentation, in hard or electronic format, from the hospital for completion outside of normal working hours.
With some staff working over 10 additional hours a week on an unpaid basis, without any extra leave, the union has also warned that chronic staffing shortages are resulting in “clinical and corporate risks” to patients and staff.
If another two full-time clerical officers leave and are not replaced, the union claimed the proper day-to-day administration of the hospital would collapse.
The Mid-West HSE has stated any union issues of concern to IMPACT could be raised through the established procedures.
Assistant IMPACT general secretary, Andy Pike, estimates that between 15 and 20 clerical administrative members have left through retirement or voluntary redundancy, without any replacement, due to the lack of any recruitment in this grade at the hospital since 2006.
“Some clerical staff were prepared to continue doing additional work on an unpaid basis, to continue providing a very good level of service for patients. They wanted to ensure that patients get proper notice of appointments and that everything is ready when they arrive for treatment.”
With the average clerical worker on an annual salary of €24,000, Mr Pike pointed out it would make sense and generate a lot of badly-needed income if more administration staff are hired to substantially reduce the figure of an estimated €16 million in insurance claims in the Mid-West that need to be validated.
IMPACT confirmed it has received numerous complaints from clerical administrative members at the hospital in relation to staffing shortages and other issues. Staff are unable in many instances to take proper breaks, it was claimed.
IMPACT members have been told the HSE has a legal obligation to monitor hours of work and that no employee can be asked to work beyond their contracted hours, without receiving pay.
The union has pointed out staff working above 48 hours per week are breaching the Organisation of Working Time Act. It has obtained anecdotal evidence that a recent report into administrative staffing suggested another 1.4 whole time equivalent of clerical resources are required within the hospital.
Since that review was carried out, management approved two full-time clerical officers for career breaks and two more staff are on long-term sick leave, leaving a staffing shortfall of 5.4 whole time equivalent clerical officers.
At the same time, the HSE is increasing demands on the reduced cohort of staff through requests for more validations, new clinics for which there is no capacity and new theatre lists, which cannot be adequately clerked, the union stated.
The union stated some clerical staff are being instructed to spend valuable time compiling and pulling charts for private patients.