Education Minister Richard Bruton insisted the controversial consultants deal — which will see 2,600 doctors receive up to €72,000 a year pay hikes — is a separate issue to the wider pay restoration talks amid fears other groups will now lodge pay claims.
Speaking on RTE’s The Week in Politics programme just days after the consultants pay deal was agreed, Mr Bruton said while the €200m figure is significant it is far lower than the alternative bill of €700m if no deal was struck.
Asked if the agreement will impact on the wider pay restoration talks, the Education minister insisted the issues are unrelated as consultants had a specific complaint and that there will be no extra pay claims as a result of the deal.
“Those processes [existing pay restoration talks with other public sector unions] will proceed, as we have negotiated with the trade unions.
“It is important to say we negotiated last year with the public sector unions a programme of pay restoration that will cost €900m.
“This issue with the consultants pre-dates FEMPI. It was a case of unilateral reneging on a contract provision by the government of the time.
“The Cabinet has been advised by the Attorney General that it would be far cheaper to settle the issue now, rather than go on to the courts in a few more years,” Mr Bruton said.
Mr Bruton ruled out the risk of extra pay claims despite the Irish Medical Organisation already saying it plans to extend the deal to consultants who entered the system after 2012 and as other unions said they will consider a similar move.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris and State financial watchdog the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy are continuing to work to put together a new system to ensure consultants benefiting from the new deal obey strict rules on public and private sector hours.
Department of Health sources said officials are working “very closely on the issue”, including a number of meetings in recent weeks on how this can take place.
It is understood the meetings are focussed on ways to “monitor and manage compliance by consultants with private practice limitations”, and to use existing information to check exactly how many private sector hours individual doctors are working.
“The Comptroller and Auditor General is in the process of gathering of information from the Department of Health and the HSE.
“Department officials have met with the comptroller and auditor general on this project, and it is understood the comptroller has also engaged with the HSE on the matter,” a Department source said.
Last Friday, Mr Harris and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed the State has agreed a €200m-plus deal with consultants to pay back-dated salary increases for 2,600 doctors who signed new contracts between 2008 and 2012.
The move will see some doctors receive up to €72,000 a year pay hikes from next year.