The Government has defended settling a claim that will see hefty pay awards for thousands of hospital consultants at a time when 707,000 patients remain on waiting lists.
The deal is estimated to cost €182m in retrospective payments and will add €62m to the annual consultant pay bill from 2019, backdated to yesterday’s settlement.
It is thought individual consultants stand to gain between €55,000-€72,000 under the deal by 2022, depending on contract type, and taking into account the unwinding of cuts imposed during the economic crisis.
This would mean a consultant who only does public sector work will see pay rise from around €180,000 to €252,000 by 2022.
Consultants who are permitted to do limited private practice would see salaries rise from around €170,000 to €225,000.
At a press conference, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe described the settlement as “the least worst outcome for the exchequer and the taxpayer”.
He also said he was confident the deal will not impact on service delivery next year.
Mr Donohoe said he recognised “very significant large amounts of money” are involved in the payments to 2,600 consultants, but that it was “considerably less than potential costs of almost €700m” if numerous cases of consultants suing the State for breach of contract went ahead.
Emergency medicine consultant Peader Gilligan, president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said he hoped the savings achieved through reaching a settlement could be used to improve the health service, as well as addressing the pay inequality between new entrants to the profession since 2012 and their pre-2012 colleagues.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that, as part of the settlement, consultants have committed to working with the Government “on new measures to ensure that they are honouring their side of the agreement by spending time in public hospitals seeing public patients”.
Health Minister Simon Harris rejected claims doctors are overpaid saying “no, I don’t believe so”.
“This is about recognising there was a legal dispute in relation to a number of people working in the health service, and about trying to resolve that in the best way,” Mr Harris said.
The settlement, which allows for the payment of arrears in 2019 and 2020, brought to an end High Court action by consultants over what they claimed was state failure to comply with the terms of the 2008 consultants’ contract.
Under the contract, doctors accepted new working conditions from July 2008 onwards, including increasing their working week, in return for two pay hikes. However, pay cuts across the public sector triggered by the economic collapse meant the second increase was never paid.
It is estimated that up to 700 breach of contract claims had been brought against the HSE and the State.
The correction in pay rate is only for consultants who signed the contract between July 25, 2008, and September 30, 2012. Consultants employed by the HSE since 2012 are paid up to 30% less than their colleagues.
The IMO and the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) welcomed the settlement, but called upon the Government to end new entrant pay “discrimination”.
The IMO said it was the driver behind “the increasing numbers of vacant consultant posts in Ireland, now over 400, and the unprecedented lack of applicants for consultant positions in our hospitals”.
IHCA president Tom Ryan said it was “essential” the discrimination ended immediately “as Ireland is no longer competitive in the global marketplace for talented doctors”.
Mr Donohoe said he was very clear that yesterday’s settlement “goes up to 2012” and that it was a matter for new entrants to decide how to address their own pay concerns. However he added “we have processes under way now in relation to dealing with some of the concerns they have”.
Last week, it emerged the State had hired detectives to spy on consultants to see if they were treating more private patients than their contract allowed.
Confidential documents showed the State hired private investigators to snoop on consultants in building their defence against the doctors’ High Court claims.
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