'A new dawn' as hospital consultants settle case against HSE and State over pay

By Ann O'Loughlin

Hospital consultants could now be set for pay increases as their claims of breach of contract against the HSE and the State have been settled at the High Court.

It is understood the deal could cost the State around €200m and will add €60m to the annual consultant pay bill in future.

The hearing of several lead cases in the legal dispute was due to commence last week but was adjourned on several occasions to Friday morning 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 settled.

The Judge was due to hear several lead cases in claims brought by hundreds of consultant doctors who allege there was a breach of their contract in relation to agreed pay promises in the 2008 consultants' contract.

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.

The consultant's claims of a breach of contract had been opposed by the State and the HSE.

The cases had they commenced were expected to run for several weeks.

The Irish Medical Organisation, and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association have welcomed the court settlement.

It is estimated that up to 700 breach-of-contract claims in total had been brought against the various defendants.

In court, John Rogers SC, who represented several of the 10 doctors taking the lead cases, said they centred on the State 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.

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

The cases could be struck out on terms including that the doctors are to get declarations they are entitled to prospective and retrospective remuneration, 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.

He also acknowledged the role of parties including the IMO, ICHA, which he said had worked together on the cases, as well as the Department of Health the HSE and the Ministers for Finance and Health in bringing about the settlement.

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 was lengthy, complex and "clearly very urgent" litigation.

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

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