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Thousands of extra staff to be hired in health service despite recruitment freeze

HSE chief executive to tell members of Oireachtas Committee on Health that service now employing largest workforce to date

Thousands of extra staff will be hired by the Health Service Executive this year despite an ongoing recruitment pause, an Oireachtas committee will be told on Wednesday.

HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster will tell committee members that the health service now has its highest workforce to date, with an increase of 21.8 per cent since the end of 2019.

He will also outline how, “at the height” of the recruitment pause last December, employees grew by 933 with continued growth in January, particularly in nursing.

“Notwithstanding control measures and affordability actions, we will this year see recruitment of new development posts at a minimum of 2,268 in our health portfolio and 683 in disability services,” he will tell the Oireachtas Committee on Health.


Last November, the HSE recruitment ban was extended to almost all staff, except consultants, doctors in training and 2023 graduate nurses and midwives. Previously, the freeze was enforced only for managerial and administrative roles.

The move, which was criticised by staff and representative unions, was made in an attempt to tighten expenditure in light of significant budget overruns in 2023.

Mr Gloster will tell the committee that he is “acutely aware of the challenges and concerns regarding pause on aspects of recruitment over the past number of months. It is clear that control within, and best use of the staff we employ, is central to our responsibilities to the public. It was clear in the latter part of 2023 that recruitment was running at a rate that was, and is, not sustainable.”

The highest ever net growth in the HSE workforce happened in 2023 with the addition of 8,239 staff and its section 39 agencies.

“The growth is in contrast with an average increase of 4,690 in the previous five years and well exceeds even the highest most recent year, driven by Covid-19, of 6,361 in 2020,” according to Mr Gloster’s opening statement.

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He will also outline how turnover has improved “in that it decreased in 2023 by 1.3 per cent” which is “very significant in both the size of our workforce and also the upward trend of the preceding years”.

“Supported by the board of the HSE, I am determined to ensure that our management of the approved workforce levels brings us to a point where arbitrary measures at national level, such as pause, will not be necessary and the best productivity possible in the public interest is achieved through our most valued asset, our workforce.”

The HSE has been given an overall financial package of €23.5 billion. Of this, €2.8 billion has been provided by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in respect of specialist disability services.

A further €90 million for new health developments is also expected to be allocated.

It is expected that Mr Gloster will be questioned by TDs about his plans to cut waiting lists and address waiting times. The HSE plans to address access and capacity problems with an additional €56 million for acute beds, diagnostics and the waiting list action plan.

He will also be asked about the organisation’s national service plan for this year. This warns that the cost of running HSE services over the next 12 months will “exceed the total funding available to it” despite forthcoming cuts to spending on agency staff and overtime.

Mr Gloster is expected to note a joint productivity taskforce set up between the Department of Health and the HSE which will “allow us to generate more activity with broadly the same resources to respond to public need particularly access”.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times