Consultants to re-open talks

HOSPITAL consultants are this week to re-open talks with Health Minister Mary Harney over her proposals to get more specialists to devote greater time to the public health service.

Last month, the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association began a campaign of limited industrial action after talks with Ms Harney broke down over employment contracts for the consultants.

However, over the weekend, the association unanimously agreed to suspend its action, which has seen consultants boycott certain meetings and administrative duties. The association is to meet Ms Harney on Thursday for talks about re-opening negotiations over the planned new contracts for consultants in the health service.

The association’s president, Dr David O’Keeffe, said the action was suspended so talks on the negotiations could take place in a “constructive atmosphere”.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health proposed to pay consultants who worked exclusively in the public health service an annual salary of €205,000 for a 39-hour week. Under the plans, consultants who opted to continue private work would get a State salary of €185,000 on top of their money from fee-paying patients. They would be allowed to spend 20% of practice time with private patients.

Talks about new contracts, which were designed to get more specialists working in the public health service, broke down in April. The consultants said the plans were unacceptable as the Government was asking its members to increase their working week from 33 hours for what was effectively less money.

In April, the Government began advertising 68 consultants posts under the new contracts even though no agreement had been reached between the consultants’ association and the Department of Health.

The consultants began a work-to-rule in May, but this was lifted over the weekend at an Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association national council meeting, which also saw Dr O’Keeffe elected as the association’s new president.

The medic, who is consultant radiologist at University College Hospital Galway, succeeds Cork-born Dr Mary McCaffrey, who did not seek re-election.

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