Consultants' body backs reform proposals
THE LEADERSHIP of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) is to recommend to members that they accept work practice reforms set out in proposals drawn up in talks at the Labour Relations Commission last month.
However, the president of the organisation, Denis Evoy, has said it will be up to individual doctors as to whether they agree to the proposed changes.
He has also warned that Government moves to cut pay for new consultants by 30 per cent would have a considerable impact on the ability of the health service to attract experienced doctors.
Speaking to journalists at the consultants association’s annual conference in Galway on Saturday, he said the association had to put the Labour Relation Commission proposals to each and every member and would do so with a recommendation for their acceptance. However, he said each member had a contract and it was up to them to either accept or reject the proposals.
“If they accept them, it becomes an agreement between that consultant and their employer and if they reject them, it doesn’t.”
“The IHCA has always done business that way, always.”
Mr Evoy said the association had entered the Croke Park agreement “as a collaborative agreement, not as a collective agreement”.
The association president indicated that given the relatively limited number of consultants in some specialities, health service management would have difficulty implementing the new rostering arrangements in the Labour Relations Commission proposals – including the provision for having senior clinicians present in hospitals on a round-the-clock basis in some areas.
He said the organisation of services was not such for that arrangement to happen. He said even the Health Service Executive did not anticipate the proposed 24/7 system would come into effect for some time. He added that a minimum number of 18 emergency medicine consultants would be needed in a hospital to facilitate a 24-hour rostered presence.
“The idea that these proposals are going to be implemented on November 5th or in the next five years given the current circumstances is an interesting discussion to have.”
In his presidential address to the conference, Mr Evoy strongly criticised the Government’s recent move to cut salaries by 30 per cent for newly appointed consultants.
This pay rate reduction was introduced unilaterally by the Government in parallel with recent talks on work practice changes.
Mr Evoy said the pay cut “would do nothing to increase the number of applicants for vacant consultant posts” in Ireland.
“On the contrary, anecdotal evidence clearly suggests the recruitment problem will only get worse with potential candidates shunning the new proposed terms and conditions. This gives rise to grave concerns because it will not serve the best interests of patients. Ultimately patients will suffer.
“Ireland needs to continue recruiting highly skilled, high-calibre consultants. International experience and training bring the latest techniques and the highest quality of medical care to our hospitals. Pitching a job offer at doctors who will not have such experience is irresponsible as it will lead to Irish medicine falling behind international best practice.”
Mr Evoy said that at present in Ireland quality of medical care was not an issue. However, he said there was a serious concern that the quality of medicine in Ireland could be significantly undermined as a consequence of the Government’s decision to cut salaries for future consultants by 30 per cent.
“It would be short-sighted in the extreme to try to whittle away at quality.”
He said Ireland was already finding it exceedingly difficult to recruit consultants over the past few years. “The number of eligible applicants for advertised consultant posts continues to decline sharply and over one-fifth of the consultant posts were not filled in 2011.” He said the potential salary saving, as a proportion of the overall health budget, was minuscule “in comparison with the potential adverse consequences for the health sector and patient care into the future”.