A meeting between medical representatives and the Minister for Health to discuss the Department’s proposals regarding consultant salaries produced “constructive” discussions which will lead to “intensive negotiations” next month, according to the Irish Medical Organisation.
However, Dr Matthew Sadlier, IMO member and former president, said it is “frustrating” that the organisation has been forced to ballot its members for industrial action in order to get a Government response.
That results of that ballot, which produced a 94% vote in favour of strike action on Dec 17, will now be held in abeyance while dialogue continues between both parties. However, the IMO said it will hold onto the mandate for such action depending on the result of those talks.
The issue at stake is the disparity in remuneration of existing consultant contracts between new and established professionals.
Minister for Health Simon Harris had announced new consultant contracts as part of the Sláintecare reform of the health service, worth up to €252,000 — roughly €120k more than the current starter contract — to commence from later this year.
That news came one day after the IMO’s strike ballot. However, those mooted contracts apply solely to new hires and those on legacy contracts who agree to focus solely on public-only work.
“Given the current crisis in our consultant numbers and bed capacity we are pleased that the Government is finally taking the matter seriously,” Dr Sadlier said.
He said that, while any imminent strike action would be deferred, the coming negotiations will be “very challenging as there are a number of issues to be addressed”.
“We all want and need reform but that reform must work for the betterment of our health services and for patients,” he added.
Together with a call for pay-equity between existing and prospective consultants, the IMO is also calling for any funding lost to hospitals as a result of private care being removed to be replaced, and an agreed plan to increase capacity in the health system.
Minister Harris declared himself “really encouraged” by the meeting with the IMO, and said that the organisation is “certainly up for doing business”.
“I want to hire 1,000 more consultants; what we need to do is get into the detail of how we can actually make that work in a practical sense,” he said.
Elsewhere, the country’s trolley crisis appears to be slowly easing, with the latest hospitals figures showing 482 people waiting to be allocated a bed — a fall of 39 compared with Thursday.
Cork University Hospital remains the third most overcrowded hospital in the country, with 36 people waiting on trolleys, behind South Tipperary General with 43 and University Hospital Limerick with 44. In a record-breaking week, CUH also had the third highest trolley total, with 210 over the seven-day period.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund, the body charged with improving waiting times, meanwhile said that 553,434 patients — a decrease of 10,000 from November - were waiting on a first outpatient consultation as at end December, with 66,563 awaiting an inpatient appointment.
The past week, which saw a new record number of 760 people on trolleys recorded on two days in succession, has been “incredibly difficult” according to general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Phil Ni Sheaghdha: “Patient care has been repeatedly put at risk. It cannot be repeated.
"We need to draw a line in the sand and ensure that we make consistent progress in reducing overcrowding."