Hospital consultants have described a request by the HSE that newly recruited doctors accept the terms of a contract which is still under negotiation as "alarming" and "inappropriate".
A new contract for hospital consultants, known as the Slaintecare contract, has been under negotiation for some time between health authorities and two representative bodies the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the Irish Hospital Consultant Association (IHCA).
The contract is a key part of the proposal to ultimately remove private care from public hospitals but has not yet been agreed upon.
However, the HSE’s HR Director Anne Marie Hoey has written to hospitals appearing to inform them that new recruits should agree to the terms of the contract, even though these terms are not yet set.
The letter, seen by theand sent on October 27, states: “All applicants up to and including the interview stage will be advised that the applicable contract is the Slaintecare contract and requested to indicate if they wish to proceed with the process under the terms of the Slaintecare contract.”
It further states: “If they indicate they are not willing to accept the terms, their application will be ceased.”
The circular acknowledges that the HSE does not yet know the implementation date for the new contract and that the contract can only apply after the implementation date. The circular also, however, states that any new doctors hired under the existing contract who are still waiting to start work when the new contract is implemented can be offered a choice of which contract to work under.
Martin Varley, secretary-general for the IHCA wrote to their members on Wednesday, saying: “The tone of the circular is surprising and alarming in equal measure.”
He said: “Interview panels asking applicants as instructed in the extract ‘if they wish to proceed under the terms of the Slaintecare contract’ is at best premature and at worst misleading given the terms of any such contract continue to be under negotiation.”
The surprising, alarming & hostile tone of the circular issued by @HSELive does little to nurture a culture of trust in our creaking health system - a system that is already beset by persistent consultant recruitment & retention crises. #CareCantWait— IHCA (@IHCA_IE) November 3, 2021
See our full response below⬇️ pic.twitter.com/eYaSyfVLrd
The IMO is also aware of this circular and wrote to members on Wednesday about this development.
"The content and tone of the memorandum, coming as it does while Consultant contract negotiations are underway, is very concerning and reflects an attitude that is far from collaborative," the IMO said.
Their response continued: "Given that no new contract terms have been agreed it is premature to ask applicants to indicate if they wish to proceed with application on the basis of a contract they have yet to see or consider.
"Our public health service is currently dealing with a crisis in consultant recruitment where we have now more than 700 vacant posts and the tone of the memorandum is wholly inappropriate."
Both the IHCA and the IMO plan to raise the circular on Thursday with the independent chair of the contract negotiations Ms Marguerite Bolger senior counsel.
The HSE said they will clarify the issue later today, saying their aim is to make sure that the recruitment of consultants occurs while contract talks continue.
On Twitter they said: "We know that a memo we issued to management has led to some confusion, and we will issue a fuller clarification later today. No applicant for a consultant post will be asked to commit to a contract they haven’t seen.
"Our objective is to ensure consultant recruitment continues while the discussions on the new Sláintecare contract are ongoing."
Speaking at a press briefing today, HSE boss Paul Reid, acknowledged the circular caused “a lot of confusion and frustration” and said there is no question of anyone being asked to sign up to a contract which has not been finalised.
He said: “We had a concern that a lot of services were holding back on recruitment, we wanted to ensure that they were continuing to recruit.”
Mr Reid also said, referring to what he called a small number of people on social media: “There is a level of attack on our HR Director which is completely inappropriate and unfair, that is not right either. We will address the issue, but an unfair targeting of a senior manager is inappropriate.”
Statement about hospital consultant contracts: We know that a memo we issued to management has led to some confusion, and we will issue a fuller clarification later today. No applicant for a consultant post will be asked to commit to a contract they haven’t seen. (1/2)— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) November 4, 2021