Public health doctors to ballot for strike action over contracts

In a letter to members, the Irish Medical Organisation says it is “beyond frustrating” that the Department of Health has still not put any formal proposals to the IMO on the contracts.
Public health doctors to ballot for strike action over contracts

Public health specialists will ballot for industrial action if a deal with the Government on consultant contracts is not agreed by the end of November. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Public health specialists will ballot for industrial action if a deal with the Government on their consultant contracts is not agreed by November 30.

In a letter to members, the Irish Medical Organisation says it is “beyond frustrating” that the Department of Health has still not put any formal proposals to the IMO on the contracts.

“The IMO has been in regular contact with department officials on this matter to expedite a meeting where formal proposals can be put to us,” the letter says.

“We have been advised they are prioritising and continuing with the work in relation to preparation of [a] workforce and business plan.” 

It further states: “The IMO has advised the Department [of Health] that a ballot for industrial action will commence unless the matter is resolved within the agreed timeframe.” 

The warning to the Government comes as the Irish Examiner has learned health chiefs have still not lodged any proposals for the new contracts with the Department of Expenditure and Reform (DPER). 

For these new contracts to be issued, they have to be signed off by DPER. A spokesperson for the department told the Irish Examiner that no proposals had yet been received.

Previously, the department has insisted: “The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has statutory responsibility for matters relating to the remuneration of public servants.

“It is for the relevant department to submit proposals relating to the particular cohort concerned for the consideration of the Minister for PER.

“Reflecting the minister’s statutory responsibilities, any such proposals would fall to be considered in the context of wider public service pay policy, legal requirements, and the terms of the public service agreement.” 

Public health specialist Regina Kiernan said: “I am extremely disappointed to hear DPER has still not received any proposals from health.

“We were assured at the last negotiation meeting with the DOH that this would be progressed as a matter of urgency, and that talks would begin this week.

“After 18 years waiting to receive the same respect shown to other specialties, I don't think that public health specialists can sustain the workload they are currently doing and will soon vote with their feet.” 

The IMO is due to meet health chiefs for a “preliminary meeting” next week.

They say “substantive negotiations” will then begin on Wednesday, November 4.

One of the last hurdles to this appeared to be overcome last month when Health Minister Stephen Donnelly secured approval for new legislation which will allow for the new contracts to be issued. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos 
One of the last hurdles to this appeared to be overcome last month when Health Minister Stephen Donnelly secured approval for new legislation which will allow for the new contracts to be issued. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos 

The Department of Health was asked why proposals have still not been sent to DPER.

This is despite repeated assurances this year from health chiefs that consultant status for public health specialists is a “priority” issue.

A spokesperson said: “The minister and the department are committed to consultant status for public health specialists.

“This commitment has been reinforced by the role the specialty has played in leading Ireland’s response to the pandemic.

“The department and the HSE are working intensively to finalise the body of work necessary in order to engage with DPER on the matter of approval for a public health model that would include consultant posts.” 

Public health specialists have been fighting to consultant status for 18 years.

One of the last hurdles to this appeared to be overcome last month when Health Minister Stephen Donnelly secured approval for new legislation which will allow for the new contracts to be issued.

Consultant status and contracts were promised as part of a pay and productivity agreement in 2019.

That deal was struck between the IMO, the Department of Health, and the HSE to avert strike action in 2019 and was due to be fully implemented by July 2020.

Much of the increased productivity aspect of the agreement was fast-tracked due to the Covid-19 crisis.

However, despite public health specialists taking on the extra work ahead of schedule, they did not get the extra pay they were promised.

Public health doctors earn €113,000 a year, while consultants earn up to between €195,000 and €199,000.

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