Howlin criticises move by consultants


A LABOUR Court hearing on reforms for hospital consultants will go ahead tomorrow despite the decision by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) not to take part.

There was anger in some Government circles yesterday at the move by the association not to participate.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said: “We would expect people who are invited by the Labour Court . . . to turn up to that, and we expect all unions which are signed up and fully protected by Croke Park to keep their side of the bargain.

“You can’t be part of a collective agreement for the things that protect you and excluded from a protective agreement for the things that challenge you.”

Minister for Health James Reilly did not comment publicly yesterday.

The Labour Court is scheduled to deal with two issues arising from talks on work practice changes for hospital consultants held at the Labour Relations Commission in September.

These relate to plans by the Health Service Executive to cut rest day entitlements and reduce payments to psychiatrists for providing second opinions. The recommendation of the Labour Court will be binding.

The Labour Court is also to deal with the issue of historic rest days under industrial relation legislation, but the recommendation in this area will not be binding.

The IHCA contended it did not need to attend the Labour Court as the issues under discussion were not covered by the Croke Park deal.

“The Croke Park agreement in the health sector is very specific. It has laid out 15 issues which should be discussed under the Croke Park agreement,” said IHCA secretary general Martin Varley.

“We have discussed those issues in so far as they are relevant to consultants and basically what we have here is the HSE throwing two or three issues into the Labour Court which shouldn’t be discussed at all.”

He said the proposals to reduce consultants’ rest day entitlements represented an issue of safety for patients and senior doctors.

“You can’t expect any professional nowadays to be on call every night and every weekend, in addition to their normal work, for 26 days out of 28,” he said.

The Irish Medical Organisation, which also represents consultants, is to attend the Labour Court hearing tomorrow, as is health service management.

However, it remains to be seen whether the IHCA will accept any recommendation that emerges from the Labour Court.

Earlier this month Dr Reilly warned that if consultants did not co-operate with a Labour Court recommendation they could lose the protection of the Croke Park agreement and face possible pay cuts.