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Thousands of consultants to get pay rises in €200 million deal

Paschal Donohoe said “absolutely gigantic” amounts of money were involved in the case.

Image: Shutterstock/Hanna Kuprevich

Updated Jun 15th 2018, 1:19 PM

THOUSANDS OF HOSPITAL consultants are set to receive significant pay increases as their breach-of-contract case against the State and the Health Service Executive (HSE) has been settled.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has welcomed the news, describing it as “a particularly divisive issue for the health services in Ireland”.

Hundreds of consultants had taken legal action against the Minister for Health, the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE in respect of a breach of the 2008 Consultant Contract.

Many others have not yet formally lodged claims but are also in line to receive years of backpay.

It is understood that the deal will cost the State around €200 million in retrospective payments and will add €60 million to the annual consultants pay bill.

The hearing of several lead cases in the dispute was due to commence last week but was adjourned on several occasions to facilitate talks aimed at resolving the dispute.

This morning, following lengthy discussions between the parties, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh was informed the actions had been settled.

As part of the 2008 agreement, consultant doctors accepted new working conditions from July 2008 onwards – including increasing their working week from 37 to 39 hours.

In court today John Rogers SC, who represented several of the 10 doctors taking the lead cases, said the proceedings centred on the State’s failure to pay remuneration due to the doctors as had been agreed as part of the 2008 contract.

Counsel said “the essence of the cases” was the state’s inability to pay the consultants following the financial crash.

Counsel said that, following lengthy talks between the various parties, an agreement had been reached to resolve the dispute.

Prospective and retrospective remuneration

The cases could be struck out on terms including that the doctors are to get declarations they are entitled to prospective and retrospective remuneration and their legal costs against the defendants.

The settlement, counsel said, will apply not only to the lead cases, but other consultants whose cases are pending before the courts and other non-litigating consultants who fall within the terms of the settlement.

Counsel said the 2008 agreement was “a visionary instrument” which resulted in consultants having a greater involvement in the running of the health services.

The settlement, counsel said, was “a new dawn” which will result in the vision and objectives of the 2008 agreement being “fully realised”.

Counsel thanked the judge for granting the parties time to bring about a resolution of matters that applied to a great number of people.

The cases, which were due to start last week, had been adjourned on several occasions to see if the claims could be resolved. The cases, had they opened before the Judge, were expected to run for several weeks.

Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh welcomed the settlement of what she said was lengthy, complex and “clearly very urgent” litigation.

The judge then agreed to make the terms of settlement an order of the court.

‘Gross injustice’ 

In a statement, the IMO said: “While the IMO welcomes the acknowledgement from the State of the breach we are extremely disappointed that, despite efforts by the IMO, that the settlement fails to address the gross injustice visited upon young consultants employed by the HSE since 2012.

These consultants continue to suffer from the negative impact of the 30% cut to consultants appointed since 2012 and the additional cuts imposed and these doctors are the only group in the public service who have been discriminated against to this degree.

“Nobody should be in any doubt that the State’s continued failure to deal with this issue is directly encouraging our young doctors to leave Ireland and practice their skills abroad in health services that value them and do not actively discriminate against them.”

€700 million 

Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke earlier, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the issue had been ongoing for a decade.

“The amounts of money involved in it are absolutely gigantic, the pay bill to this point that has been disputed is in excess of €700 million and we are working to see if there is a settlement, what kind of settlement can be pursued on the matter.

“My view has been and will continue to be that we need to reach in all matters a settlement and agreement that is fair and safe for the taxpayer.”

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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