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HSE promises review of consultants' 'paid year off' before retirement

Around 450 consultants are entitled to a full year of annual leave, fully paid, in the year before their retirement.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE HSE HAS promised to review a contractual arrangement which allows hundreds of the country’s most senior hospital consultants to take a full year off work, on full pay, the year before their retirement.

The entitlement – which applies to around 450 consultants – was introduced in 1997, RTÉ News said, as a bid to compensate senior members of HSE staff who did not get to take up their leave allowances under earlier contracts.

Under the terms of previous consultant contracts from the 1980s, consultants were entitled to weekends off, as well as eight days’ leave per month – but a shortage of similarly qualified staff in their hospitals meant that many were never able to take up this entitlement.

The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association said that in most cases, staff had accrued more than a year’s worth of untaken leave by the time the new contracts were introduced in 1997. One consultant told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland he had accrued four years of leave by that time.

Then, staff were told they could either accept a full year’s worth of annual leave (or ‘Historical Rest Days’), to be taken in the year before retirement, or forfeit all of the leave they had previously built up.

The arrangement meant hospitals were required to hire locum consultants to fill on for staff taking a full year’s annual leave, in some cases doctors chose to act as their own locum – being paid for their additional duties on top of their own base salary.

The arrangement is set to remain in force until 2027, when it is understood that the last eligible doctor will retire – and that the arrangement will cost the state a little over €100m between now and then.

It is understood that the majority of the consultants working in the public health system signed newer contracts in 2008, which do not entitle them to similar arrangements.

The HSE last night said it was examining “historical work practices with all of its stakeholders, trade union bodies and representative associations.”

More: Health service ‘reaching breaking point’ over doctor shortages >

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Gavan Reilly

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