12. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to review and address recruitment and retention issues in various areas of the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 47262/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)

Deputy Dara Calleary: The issue of recruitment and retention within the public service is causing considerable pressure, particularly in the health service but also in the area of education. An issue has arisen, for example, in the context of the availability of substitute teachers. I have also seen figures which indicate that 60 hospital beds were closed last month because of a shortage of staff. I understand that there are procedures within the Public Service Pay Commission to address this and, as with the question on pay equalisation earlier, I want to know if those procedures have been initiated.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for a more comprehensive examination by the Public Service Pay Commission of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in sectors and employment streams of the public service where difficulties are evident.

The Government recently approved the terms of reference for the second phase of work of the commission. Where a difficulty is identified, the commission will examine the full range of causal factors, including matters such as the totality of the current remuneration package, planned future pay adjustments, alleviations from current rates of pension related deductions as provided for in the public service stability agreement and FEMPI unwinding post-2020.

The commission will also look at supply constraints of newly qualified graduates of relevant post-leaving certificate and third-level programmes. It will develop appropriate analytical criteria to ensure a robust evidence-based approach to this exercise. It will look at areas where a global labour market exists as well as the responses being adopted in other jurisdictions where similar recruitment and retention problems obtain.

I met the commission to discuss this matter two weeks ago. I met Mr. Kevin Duffy and the full commission and we had a discussion on this issue and on the terms of reference being set by the Government. Where we have retention and recruitment issues, we want to determine the reasons for that and we discussed the importance of evidence in terms of allowing us to understand it. One of the areas on which we made progress relates to the last piece of work carried out by the commission. The commission published work that was transparent and evidence-based, particularly regarding public pensions. I would be eager that such an approach would be continued in respect of this sensitive area. I understand that, in the first instance, the commission intends to focus on those groups in the health sector that were identified in its first report. It will produce a preliminary report on these issues during 2018 and I anticipate receipt of the final report by the end of 2018, as was envisaged in the agreement.

Deputy Dara Calleary: I suggest that another issue be added to the criteria would be the amount of money being spent, particularly within the health service, on agencies to fill the gaps. I point to the example of Erris in County Mayo, an area that is physically the same size as County Louth, where there is currently no public physiotherapy service. Can the Minister imagine County Louth without such a service? There is a difficulty in recruiting physiotherapists and the posts are currently being filled by agency staff. That also applies to occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and general nursing. I heard reports of a freedom of information request on the money being spent to recruit nurses from abroad. Representatives of our hospital groups are travelling abroad to recruit nurses while we are exporting nurses out of the country.

As another assist in terms of looking at the cost of this, can we look at the amount of money that is being spent on agencies, particularly within the health service? That money might be better invested in putting more comprehensive pay packages in place. However, it is not just a question of pay. It is also a question of HR policies within the public service that have not been adapted or updated to reflect modern ways of working and of career development.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I entirely agree with Deputy Calleary on the final point he made. As he said, pay will play a role but there are many other matters at stake here, particularly the issue of career planning. When people enter any kind of job, but particularly a front-line service job, they have a reasonable expectation that they will know how their career is going to be planned for the foreseeable future. This is an issue that I discussed with the commission and it will be an important factor in understanding where we have difficulties. It is my view that we do not have a generalised recruitment difficulty but we may well have specific retention challenges in particular areas in our country and in particular specialties.

On the Deputy’s first point about agency staff, I will ask the commission to include that in its work.