The HSE has decided to introduce a three-month recruitment freeze in the health service in an effort to manage costs.
In a letter to senior HSE directors, the Deputy Director General of the HSE Liam Woods said the decision is based upon the financial pressure in the system arising from the high levels of recruitment in 2018, and the consequential impact in 2019 and the need to live within resources.
The Labour party's health spokesman Alan Kelly obtained the letter and published it this morning.
He said he thinks it's 'extraordinary' and 'unacceptable' that the HSE is proposing a three month recruitment and overtime ban, especially at a time, when he says, there is a 'crisis' in the health service, particularly in acute areas and in community groups.
Mr Kelly called the idea of introducing a ban like this 'complete madness' at a time when there are massive staff shortages.
He said the Minister for Health was not aware of this proposal and he hopes Simon Harris will intervene and reverse this ban.
He said there is a lack of nurses, doctors, specialists and consultants right across the HSE so a 'crude instrument' like a recruitment ban, when there are obvious shortfalls, is simply unacceptable in the extreme.
Speaking to RTÉ's This Week programme he Deputy Kelly said: "The letter makes it clear that they are bringing in a recruitment and an overtime ban across the board. The letter also makes it clear that they're going to have to make special cases in relation to recruitment. That is not what is acceptable.
"I've also had confirmation from the trade unions this morning that they weren't aware of this at all so where does that leave the relationship between the department, the Minister and the trade unions as regards his commitments to them as regards bringing in specialists across the board which are undoubtedly needed," he added.
The letter also states that the ban will not apply to hospitals that have credible financial plans in place, meaning it only applies to those that are overrunning on their budgets.
However, Mr Kelly said in reality, in some areas, the position they are being left in financially is not just about recruitment.
He said recruitment is one of the reasons why some hospitals are overrunning on their budgets.
He added over €300m is being used on agency staff because recruitment issues have not been dealt with before.
Mr Kelly said in many cases it is not comparing like with like, and some hospitals are being faced with financial backlogs that they are going to be penalised by more because financial controls were not implemented by the HSE in the first place.
He absolutely denied that senior managers, who should have been looking after the hospitals, were not doing their job because they were up before committees for issues such as the Cervical Check scandal. Mr Kelly said those managers had to be held accountable.
He said there is a dramatic need for an increase in doctors, nurses, and specialists, and that it needs to be allowed to happen in a structured and organised way.
Mr Kelly said he is hopeful after his conversation with the Minister for Health this morning, that this proposed recruitment freeze will be withdrawn.
He said the ban is too crude and he is hopeful the minister will put in place a process to deal with this, especially in the area of recruitment.
A spokeswoman for Minister Simon Harris said the Department is working with the HSE to reach an approved pay and numbers strategy for 2019. The HSE is aware that all recruitment must be affordable and within budget.
Meanwhile, the Minister of State, Sean Canney, said it was "ironic" that the HSE was being criticised for stepping in at an early stage to control recruitment and spending.
Speaking on RTÉ's The Week In Politics, Mr Canney said: "Now is the time to do it - to make sure the message is loud and clear."
The Independent Alliance deputy said: "Each hospital group has to produce their recruitment strategy - some have [and] some haven't."
He added that the HSE was telling them to "... make sure that you have a strategy for your recruitment now, rather than next October, and only talking about it then".
The Minister said the plans were essential in order to ensure that "... when managers are managing their business they recruit the people they need, rather than recruit more managers".
Deputy Canney added: "We need more frontline staff and we don't want more managers. We want to make sure that every ounce of the billions going into health are used and directed to the right place."