Health chief withdraws letter in consultants’ pay row

Department head retracts suggestion that HSE chief's views were ‘unacceptable’

Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, said the Haddington Road agreement was ‘made elsewhere without formal consultation with the HSE on the final proposals’. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, said the Haddington Road agreement was ‘made elsewhere without formal consultation with the HSE on the final proposals’. Photograph: Alan Betson

Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 00:52

The head of the Department of Health has withdrawn a letter he sent to the head of the Health Service Executive following an unprecedented row between the two most senior officials in the health service over pay for entry-grade consultants.

Department secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin had sent the letter to HSE director general Tony O’Brien only a day earlier and appeared to upbraid him over pay policy.

But a spokesman for the department confirmed last night that the letter had been withdrawn “following detailed discussions” between them over Labour Relations Commission engagement in the context of the MacCraith report on hospital consultant pay. Sources said Dr McLoughlin had “misunderstood” assertions in a letter sent to him by Mr O’Brien last Friday.

The exchange began when Mr O’Brien wrote to Dr McLoughlin saying the HSE was not consulted before the Haddington Road deal was finalised.

 

Hospital consultant pay

In the letter, Mr O’Brien appeared to set conditions on the HSE’s agreement to future pay deals and backed a substantial pay rise for new hospital consultants. But in a reply sent on Monday, Dr McLoughlin said that any suggestion the HSE would not be bound by Government decisions on pay was “totally unacceptable”. The exchange of letters took place in the context of talks with the Irish Medical Organisation on the recruitment and retention of senior doctors in the health service.

 

The MacCraith group report urged the Government to look again at pay levels for newly appointed hospital consultants, which were reduced by 30 per cent in 2012. The talks, involving the Department of Health, the HSE, the Department of Public Expenditure and the IMO, reconvene at the Labour Relations Commission tomorrow.

 

‘Substantial restoration’

Mr O’Brien said in his letter “we believe it is imperative to secure a substantial restoration of the October 2012 cut to the entry pay for newly appointed consultants”.

 

“I am also concerned in the context of the Haddington Road agreement, the HSE is often said by others to have signed off or to [have] signed up to the final proposals. As you know, in fact, those decisions were made elsewhere without formal consultation with the HSE on the final proposals.”

Dr McLoughlin replied that the Minister [for Health] signed up to the Haddington Road agreement and the HSE was implementing it.After Dr McLoughlin withdrew his letter, Mr O’Brien wrote back accepting this withdrawal.