Consultants lose bid to extend talks

Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 01:00

The body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park agreement has rejected a bid by hospital consultants to extend the timeframe for crunch talks with health service management on work practice changes and flexibilities.

Talks between health service management and organisations representing hospital consultants are due resume today.

The chief executive of the HSE Cathal Magee described a four-hour meeting with hospital consultants last week as “disappointing”. Management has signalled that the talks today will be the final opportunity for the parties to agree a deal directly between them.

In a confidential letter to the Croke Park Implementation Body yesterday, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) sought to extend the period of the talks for six weeks, excluding the forthcoming holiday period.

IHCA secretary general Martin Varley said health service management had outlined a clear view last week that it was not willing to allow time for meaningful discussions on complex and difficult issues.

“It persisted to hold this position and threatened to end discussions when we meet on Tuesday 24 July if we did not advance issues to finality. It further suggested on several occasions that it would refer the matter to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) following discussions on July 24th.”

"Having just commenced discussions on the detailed documents at out July 17th meeting we consider a breach of Sections 1.23 and 1.24 of the Public Sector Agreement (Croke Park deal) to threaten to refer the matter under discussion to the LRC at this very early stage of engagement, " Mr Varley said.

"The management side appears to be operating outside the spirit, if not the letter of the PSA in this regard. At this stage, the association has commenced discussions and sought clarification on a number of the HSE proposals. The association has also identified the need for detailed relevant information to be provided so that the proposals can be considered properly and this is awaited from the HSE."

However in a letter this morning to the IHCA, the Implementation Body said that the approach being adopted by management was in accordance with the Croke Park agreement. It said it did not propose to intervene.

The Minister for Health James Reilly has proposed introducing work practice changes and greater flexibility for hospital consultants as an alternative to further pay cuts as set out in the programme for Government.

In its reform proposals, which was drawn up in May, management has sought “demonstrable” changes to work practices, attendance patterns and reporting relationships for hospital consultants in a document tabled about two months ago.

Management also proposed a “significant reduction” in the amount of historic leave that can be taken by consultants.

It said several hundred were entitled to up to a full year of historic rest days and in many cases, in the year before retirement, senior doctors were opting to act as their own locum, thereby receiving two salaries.

The document said there should be a review of existing rosters and work schedules to ensure that there was a greater presence from consultants in geriatric medicine, general surgery, paediatrics and others in emergency departments.