Q&A - Pay cuts may lead to legal action

Q. What is the consultants/HSE row all about?

A. As ever with health service disputes, it depends on your point of view. Consultants say it is about “patient safety” while the HSE says it is about getting the best deal possible for the taxpayer.

But what is clear is that a serious and potentially costly row is fast approaching, which could ultimately end up in legal action.

Specifically, it comes down to three issues: more rostered/on-call days for consultants, from 23 every 28 days to 26; fee cuts for mental health second opinions; and reductions in historic rest days not taken in previous years.

The HSE and Irish Medical Organisation are still due to discuss these changes at the Labour Court tomorrow. However, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association is refusing, arguing the issues fall outside of the Croke Park agreement and as such cannot be discussed.

Q. I thought all this was resolved in September?

A. So did most people. Last month, the HSE and two medical unions involved met at the Labour Relations Commission to negotiate work practice changes.

The three groups were due to meet tomorrow at the Labour Court to enact September’s decisions.

However, on Monday, the IHCA said it will not turn up at the meeting as September’s deal was just a proposal.

It also said it cannot speak on behalf of individual doctors, despite negotiating on behalf of individual doctors on numerous previous occasions, most notably the Croke Park agreement and the 2008 consultants contract.

The HSE and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister, Brendan Howlin, have demanded the IHCA turns up, saying if it does not the union will be stepping outside of Croke Park and be open to pay cuts.

Q. What options are open to both parties?

A. The IHCA is surveying its members on the issues raised last month on Friday. It has not ruled out the possibility of legal action if pay cuts are imposed.

The HSE on the other hand will still meet at the Labour Court with the larger IMO tomorrow. If this meeting ends in an agreement on the issues raised in September, they will be in a far stronger position on the dispute.

Q. Will there be any consequences for Health Minister James Reilly?

A. While the minister has faced a series of personal and health service political crises in recent months — ranging from tax issues to resigning colleagues — pushing through consultant work practice changes would have been a feather in his cap.

Failure on the headline issue is not what his reputation needs right now.

- Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

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