The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association confirmed the situation — which could cost the taxpayers tens of millions of euro — at its AGM in Cork City at the weekend.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, the union’s assistant secretary general, Martin Varley, confirmed a “significant” number of senior doctors have already filed legal papers with the High Court against the State.
While he would provide no details on the number of individuals involved, when the cases were filed or the “varying” amount of money owed, he said the row relates to an on-going dispute over the 2008 consultant contract.
Under the agreement, doctors working at that time were due to receive pay rises — bringing their then salaries up to between €175,000 and €240,000 — for taking up extra hours and weekend work in the public sector.
However, when the economic crisis hit, large sections of the funding was held back by the Department of Health as other areas had to be prioritised.
Two IHCA members took Labour Relations Commission cases against the department in 2009 over the issue, insisting the State had failed to honour the agreement.
And with the issue yet to be fully resolved, Mr Varley said a “significant” number of the senior doctors are now taking High Court legal action.
The issue is unrelated to the 2012 decision by then health minister Dr James Reilly to cut new consultants’ salaries by 30%, a move the IHCA claimed his replacement Leo Varadkar described as a “mistake” and is seeking to have reversed.
Speaking at the IHCA conference, union president Dr Gerard Crotty said the return of the 30% sum is needed to help stop the “brain drain” of medics leaving Ireland.
He added that public hospitals and mental health services are at the “brink of collapse” after seven years of repeated cutbacks, and used international studies to support suggestions patients are almost 30% more likely to die if they spend lengthy times waiting for help on trolleys.
During the meeting, Jim Breslin, the new secretary general at the Department of Health, stressed the service needs a “realistic” budget.