Psychiatrists reject Harney plea on tribunals

A ROW between psychiatrists and the Health Minister worsened yesterday as they rejected her Christmas appeal to take part in new mental health tribunals.

The Irish Hospital Consultant’s Association (IHCA) effectively told Minster Mary Harney to get lost until such time as psychiatrists are paid their dues under the Sustaining Progress partnership programme.

“The secretary general of the Department of Health has acted outside of the terms of Sustaining Progress by withholding the 1.5% salary increase to consultant psychiatrists,” said IHCA secretary general Finbarr Fitzpatrick.

“This impasse has been created through the dictatorial attitude of Hawkins House, and the Tánaiste has the key to bringing about an immediate resolution, should she choose to use it.”

The Tánaiste appealed to consultants to take part in the tribunals in an interview on RTÉ Radio One this week saying: “If there’s any wish I’d make for Christmas to the Irish Hospital Consultant’s Association (IHCA) and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) it is please co-operate with the establishment of the tribunals.”

The IHCA responded by saying the Minister had not introduced the legislation necessary to establish the tribunals, but the department said this was because of non-co-operation by the consultants.

Yesterday Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Should the Tánaiste implement the Mental Health legislation in the immediate future, the IHCA will co-operate fully with its implementation but, as membership of Mental Health tribunals is a voluntary matter outside of the contractual conditions of consultant psychiatrists, the advice not to apply for consideration for membership of such tribunals will continue until the ban on the salary increase has been removed.”

The IHCA says consultants need greater staffing back-up to be able to adhere to very strict timescales accompanying the new tribunals. Failure to adhere to the codes can lead to fines of up to €1,500 or two years in jail.

Ms Harney rejects the consultant’s claim that adequate resources are not in place to support the tribunals. “I have secured an additional €25m for the enhancement of mental health services in 2006, including the establishment of 18 new consultant psychiatrist-led teams at a cost of some €15m,” she said.

The Tánaiste also confirmed that if both the IHCA and the Irish Medical Organisation withdrew the instruction to their members not to apply for positions on the tribunals, and gave a commitment that they would co-operate with their operation, then this would immediately clear the way for payment of the 1.5% salary increase due.

The tribunals, when established, will review the cases of people detained involuntarily in psychiatric hospitals. More than 3,000 patients are involuntarily detained each year.

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