Yesterday, the HSE Employers’ Agency said it had been advised that a key member of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association negotiating team was ill.
The talks chairman, Mark Connaughton, had suggested they resume business in January.
“One of the members was indisposed and for that reason the... chairman has suggested that he would be prepared to give a further two weeks to the talks in January if both parties are agreeable,” said agency chief executive Gerry Barry.
“We are prepared to give one final two-week period in January to definitively conclude the process. We hope there will be agreement, but either way the process ends at that.”
Attempts between the Department of Health, health service employers and the association to agree a new consultants’ contract have dragged on for four years, and a Government-imposed deadline to complete talks in March of this year was not met.
Last month, Health Minister Mary Harney signalled that if agreement was not reached by Christmas, management would move unilaterally to advertise for new consultants on revised terms and conditions.
Already, health service management has been forced to revise upwards from €216,000 to €230,000 the salary it is prepared to pay consultants who commit to working exclusively in public hospitals (type A contract), an increase of more than 6%.