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'A slap in the face': Backlash to HSE memo asking consultants to agree to unfinished contract

The HSE has acknowledged this morning that the memo has “led to some confusion”

LAST UPDATE | 4 Nov 2021

DOCTORS AND CONSULTANTS have reacted angrily to a HSE memo sent to hospital management last week, with one union describing the letter as “hostile” and “intimidatory” 

The HSE has acknowledged that the memo has “led to some confusion” and that a clarification was required. 

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said in statement last night that the memo was “at best premature and at worst misleading” because it suggested that prospective consultants would be required to sign up to a contract they had not seen. 

The HSE has also acknowledged that discussions on the contract “are ongoing”. 

The 27 October memo was sent by the HSE’s national HR director to various hospital groups and said that the proposed Sláintecare Consultant Contract would apply to all new consultant posts and new contracts. 

The memo acknowledged that the new Sláintecare Consultant Contract was currently only a proposal and that an implementation date had not been agreed.

Nonetheless, the memo stated that new contract would be “applicable to all new and replacement consultant contracts issued after the implementation date.”

The memo also stated that applicants for consultant posts were required to agree to the proposed contract if they wished to continue with their application. 

It stated: 

All applicants up to and including the interview stage will be advised that the applicable contract will be the Sláintecare Contract and requested to indicate if they wish to proceed with the process under the terms of the Sláintecare Contract. In the event that they indicate that they are not willing to accept the terms of the Sláintecare contract their application will be ceased. 

IHCA secretary general Martin Varley wrote to members last night expressing concern at the tone of the memo, which he described as “surprising and alarming in equal measure”. 

Varley also criticised the timing of the letter “in the midst of negotiations on a new consultants contract to which the HSE is a party”. This, he said, “has understandably been construed by many as a hostile and regressive step”.

Turning attention to the portion of the letter which outlines the requirement for applicants to agree to the proposed Sláintecare Consultant Contract”, Varley said this is: “at best premature and at worst misleading given the very terms of any such contract continue to be under negotiation.”

“Circulars of this nature do little to nurture a culture of trust in our health system. Just as the ill-judged attempts last May to gag healthcare professionals from advocating for patients was withdrawn, so too should this circular,” he said. 


The memo has also prompted a significant backlash online from doctors and trainees, with several suggesting it may cause them to reconsider their medical careers in Ireland. 

“The idea of signing up to a contact that doesn’t exist is a slap in the face. Less than two years to Australia for fellowship and there’s no road home. My six years of specialist anaesthetics training going to waste to the Irish public,” one specialist trainee posted on Twitter

In response to the outcry, the HSE has said this morning that it will issue a clarification later today. 

“We know that a memo we issued to management has led to some confusion, and we will issue a fuller clarification later today. No applicant for a consultant post will be asked to commit to a contract they haven’t seen,” the HSE said in a statement

“Our objective is to ensure consultant recruitment continues while the discussions on the new Sláintecare contract are ongoing.”

Asked about the memo this afternoon, HSE CEO Paul Reid said the purpose of sending the communication was to ensure that they hiring of consultants was not delayed because of ongoing contract negotiations. 

“Firstly, we acknowledge that the recent correspondence from ourselves may have caused some confusion and indeed some frustration. And we are issuing some clarification on that,” he told reporters today. 

“We had a concern that a lot of the services were holding back on recruitment of consultants and waiting for the a potentially new consultant contract, the purpose that communication was to ensure that they were continuing to recruit and not waiting.”

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