Health Minister hits back at 'personalised, ageist attacks' by hospital consultants

The Health Minister has described as “personalised” and “ageist” criticism levelled at him by hospital consultants that he does not have the authority or experience to deliver timely care for patients.

Health Minister hits back at 'personalised, ageist attacks' by hospital consultants

The Health Minister has described as “personalised” and “ageist” criticism levelled at him by hospital consultants that he does not have the authority or experience to deliver timely care for patients.

At a health budget press conference, Simon Harris said he would treat such “personalised, ageist-type attacks” with contempt.

Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) president Dr Donal O’Hanlon said at the weekend that consultants did not believe the Minister had the authority, understanding, inclination or experience to deliver timely, quality hospital care for patients.

This followed an emergency meeting of the IHCA leadership who voted no confidence in Mr Harris.

The IHCA was before the joint Health Committee today calling for pay parity to address an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis within the consultant workforce where there are approximately 500 vacancies.

Referring to his criticism of the Health Minister, Labour Party health spokesperson Alan Kelly told Dr O’Hanlon:

I think that statement won’t help you.

Dr O’Hanlon said it was “a response to the anger felt by the members”.

The IHCA is unhappy that the Irish Medical Organisation has been invited to talks on health service reform, while it has not.

IHCA secretary general Martin Varley told the committee the last meeting the association had with the minister was last March.

The minister had agreed to attend its annual conference but had cancelled, saying he would be in contact.

However Mr Varley said “despite numerous calls to his private secretary, there has been no attempt to engage”.

Mr Harris said at the press conference that the IMO was invited in first because it is affiliated with ICTU, while the IHCA is not.

“I do intend to broaden out talks to other bodies at a later stage,” he said.

Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson, said if his party was in government it would eliminate the pay equality that exists between consultants since a unilateral cut was imposed on the pay of new entrants in 2012. The cut means a consultant appointed since 2012 can earn up to €50,000 less than a colleague doing the same job.

Mr Donnelly asked the IHCA why it believed the government was refusing to meet the association.

IHCA vice president Dr Laura Durcan said she believed the government was afraid, that there was a view the health service is “where good money goes to die”.

IHCA vice president Dr Gabrielle Colleran said she believed the public health system had been “politicised and weaponised”.

She said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had given a commitment to engage with them last October but “since then, he’s been kicking the can down the road, lots of selfies, lots of spin”.

Mr Harris said there was a process to go through when addressing pay parity, just as they had gone through a process with GPs and nurses, which led to improved remuneration, but with added responsibilities.

No money was ringfenced in the budget to restore consultants’ pay.

Mr Harris was also asked at the press conference if there was any timeline for the introduction of a HSE voluntary redundancy scheme.

He said the timing was "entirely a matter for Mr (Paul) Reid, as it's a function of the CEO".

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