Longer Healthy Living Bill
Overall, I am supportive of the Longer Healthy Living Bill which proposes to ensure all those who are employees of the Department of Health – and all those who are employed by bodies directly funded by the Department of Health – may, if they wish, postpone their retirement where they would otherwise have been forced to retire at a particular age.
It is my understanding there is no link between mandatory retirement age and preserved pension age nor does this draft Bill serve to change the pension benefits or pension age.
It must be noted that any changes to the existing pension arrangement could have significant cost implications and would be a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the first place.
I am however in favour of section six of the Bill which refers to a presumption that an individual is fit to work.
This section states that an individual seeking to have a mandatory retirement age clause ignored under the regulations provided by this Act, shall be assumed to be fit to work unless a registered medical practitioner has determined that they have become unfit to work as a result of the existence of a medical condition. This I believe is fair and equitable clause.
I am also strongly supportive of section eight otherwise known as the Grandfather Clause. This section states that any individual who attained the mandatory retirement age within two years of the commencement of this Act may apply to the Minister to have their employment reinitiated under the same terms and conditions that were available to them, if they retired as a result of attaining that age. This clause is an interesting and fair to those who have recently reached retirement age. I believe this could this be applied to other sectors, such as the teaching profession for example.
In the medical field, staffing poses one of the biggest challenges. The HSE, as the largest employer in the country and obliged to provide Health care for all conditions and illnesses, is faced with unique challenges as regards the provision of specialist skills by a range of medical practitioners.
Regarding Consultants – there are some specialties in which there are international shortages and which have been traditionally difficult to fill. Shortages in specialties such as emergency medicine, anaesthesia and psychiatry are a worldwide phenomenon and not specific to the Irish health services. It can also be difficult to fill highly specialised posts in tertiary hospitals given the limited numbers of Irish consultants who may pursue careers in these specialties. Sourcing successors can take time, even where the retirement date of the occupant of a pivotal role is known. There are also some hospitals to which it has historically been difficult to attract applicants, in particular smaller hospitals. Notwithstanding these factors, it is appropriate that decisions, in limited circumstances, about the re-hiring of retired medical staff are made by health service employers rather than driven by the employee’s assessment of the situation.
Moving on to Specialist Nurses – certain specialist nursing grades, in particular theatre nurses, and nurses with particular specialist qualifications are valuable resources that can be difficult to replace. Forced retirement on attaining the retirement age can result in a significant resource loss to the system.
Regarding a National integrated strategic framework for health workforce planning: the Department of Health is currently establishing a cross sectoral working group to develop a national integrated strategic framework for health workforce planning.
The Working group will include representatives of the Department of Health as well as the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Education and Skills, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. The Higher Education Authority and SOLAS will also be involved along with a range of HSE directorates.
This Working Group will begin meeting early next year and submit the framework to the Minister by October 2016. The plan will include a high-level implementation plan and associated deliverables.
In order to develop the framework, the working group will;
• undertake a programme of stakeholder engagement, including with patient and staff associations.
• conduct a high level examination of the current position of the health workforce in Ireland – this will include looking at numbers, skills and competences.
• assess the health system’s capacity for implementation of strategic workforce planning,
• analyse cross-sectoral activities relating to the health sector workforce and assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the current arrangement.
• consider national and international policies, developments and trends that are likely to influence the future shape of the health workforce.
In conclusion, although I agree in principle, with the Bill, many of the proposed provisions require careful consideration in the context of wider Government policy in relation to public sector pay, pensions and workforce planning.
Consultation will be required with the relevant stakeholders, including the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Social Protection, the HSE and other agencies under the remit of the Department.