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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly speaking to media before yesterday's meeting of the Cabinet. Leah Farrell
Stephen Donnelly

'We need more decision-makers at weekends': Donnelly to press ahead with new consultant contract

IMO and IHCA members have voted to reject the new contract, which comes into force today.

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said he will press ahead with a new consultant contract, despite opposition from consultant and non-consultant hospital doctors.

From today, the only contract that will be offered to new consultants or those wishing to change their current contract, will be public-only hospital consultant contract.

The new contract will see consultants rostered on Saturdays for the first time.

Consultants will also have to meet a commitment to their public contract before they can engage in private work, which must be done off-site and in their own time.

On Monday, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) revealed that their members rejected the new contract proposed by the government.

57% of current contract holders and 64% of future consultants indicated that they will not switch to the new contract.

Key reasons for the IMO rejecting the new contract include a “lack of trust in Government and HSE that there will be sufficient medical and other staff on weekend and evening shifts to ensure safety”.

The IMO also claims that there is “no limitation on the number of evenings and Saturdays a consultant will be required to work in addition to already onerous on-call commitments”.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) the announced yesterday that its members had also voted to reject the new contract.

73% of those who responded to a recent IHCA survey said “they are more likely to remain on their current contract rather than take-up the new one”.

Both organisations have said that there are not enough consultants at present to meet demand, with 73% of IHCA respondents saying they are “not confident that the new contract will address the Consultant recruitment and retention crisis”.  

A statement from the IHCA yesterday said: “We are working with 40% fewer consultants in Ireland compared to the EU average.

“Under this new contract, we face being stretched even further with no clarity on how it will attract and retain the additional consultants our patients need.”

‘No new talks’

When asked on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland if the government would press ahead with the new contract, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly this morning replied: “We absolutely are.”

“To be clear, we are offering a contract now which is very attractive,” said Donnelly. “We’re offering a contract that pays €257,000 for 37 hours’ work.

“When you add on on-call, many consultants will earn over €300,000 and on top of that we’ll have essentially unlimited private practice of all size.”

The Health Minister told RTÉ that that the contract is “really important” for patients: “We know that we need more senior decision makers on site in hospitals at longer times for patients at the weekends and in the evenings.

“We’re in the middle of the biggest expansion of the workforce, of hospital beds, of diagnostics in the public health system in decades. This is a really important part of that.”

“There will be no new talks,” Donnelly added, before saying that he is “very disappointed” with the response of the IHCA.

“The independent chair concluded after a year and a half of talks that there was no further progress to be made,” said Donnelly.

“He recommended to both sides that we finish up the contract as it was then. That’s exactly what we did.”

“I think the IHCA’s response has been very disappointing. All we really asked was that they do want the IMO did, to present the contract in a balanced way.

“Of course raise concerns, but also point to the very significant positives in the contract for consultants and patients.”

Donnelly claimed that the “IHCA chose not to do that” and accused the IHCA of circulating “a very negative and very misleading communication to their members” which led to “members getting spooked”.

The Health Minister noted that “40% of the IMO doctors have said they’re going to take the contract, [and] nearly a third of the IHCA doctors have said they’re going to take the contract”.

He described this as a “good start” and added: “We know that there are doctors in the system who, quite frankly, make so much money from private treating private patients in public hospitals that they will never take it.

“But a third or more have said they will. I think a lot more, when they see this contract in operation, they see the much higher wage being paid, they see the flexibility in the contract, I think more of them will take it.

“Ultimately this is about driving down the waiting list and getting patients the care they need when they need it.”

New HSE boss

Donnelly received backing from new HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster who said the offer is a “very attractive contract by any standards”

Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne, Gloster said it will move a “baseline salary of €250,000 potentially up to €300,000″ and provide a “wider spread” of roster hours across the system.

“There comes a point in every negotiation where the negotiation has to stop and we have to say we can’t get any further,” Gloster said, adding discussions have progressed significantly in the past 18 months.

“Nobody in a negotiation comes out of it with everything they want, including government as well as the medical organisations, but the reality is by any standard it is a very attractive position to what was heretofore.”

Additional reporting by Eoghan Dalton

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