HSE to resume talks with consultants

Fri, Sep 14, 2012, 01:00

Talks between health service managers and consultants at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) ended last night without resolution.

The negotiations, which centre on implementing work practice reforms, went on until Midnight and will resume later today, a source close to the talks said.

Minister for Health James Reilly said yesterday if a deal is not reached with hospital consultants on reforms and efficiencies by Sunday night the issues will be referred to the Labour Court for a binding resolution.

One of the organisations representing specialist doctors, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), which was accused of foot-dragging on the reform process by the Minister on Wednesday, yesterday agreed to attend talks at the LRC.

This followed a meeting with senior health service management at which the Government’s concerns were set out.

Dr Reilly said there was a determination in Government that the process for securing greater efficiencies and reforms from hospital consultants could not drag on.

He said if the IHCA had not agreed in the morning to attend talks at the LRC, the Government would have sought an assessment from the body overseeing the Croke Park agreement as to whether they were still covered by the protections set out in the deal.

“Clearly if they were not covered by the protections of Croke Park that would have opened up a whole host of options.”

As part of its reforms, management has sought “demonstrable” changes to work practices, attendance patterns and reporting relationships for hospital consultants.

Management tabled its proposals initially last May. However, direct talks with the IHCA and the Irish Medical Organisation broke down in July. Under the provisions of the Croke Park deal, management referred the issue to the LRC.

The LRC had invited the medical organisations to exploratory talks which were provisionally scheduled for yesterday. However, these talks were effectively postponed on Wednesday as there was no indication from the IHCA that it was prepared to attend. The IMO was available to attend.

Dr Reilly said he had set a deadline of Sunday night for the talks to be completed.

He said if the talks failed to resolve all the issues, they would be referred to the Labour Court for a binding recommendation. The IHCA said that having waited since August 8th, it only received clarification on “key facts” from the HSE on Wednesday.

“Consequently, the IHCA confirms it has agreed with senior health management to enter into non-binding discussions under the auspices of the LRC. The association confirms that it is prepared to stay in the LRC discussions for as long as necessary.”

The IHCA said consultants were delivering considerable savings, greater efficiency and were treating more patients.

Dr Reilly said it was fair to say that a number of consultants had shown flexibilities but that they had done so on a pro-bono basis.

“I cannot operate a system on a pro-bono basis.

“I have to get these matters formalised through the industrial relations machinery in terms of the Labour Relations Commission, Croke Park and the Labour Court if necessary.”

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS KEY POINTS:

* “Demonstrable" changes to work practices, attendance and reporting relationships

* A scheduled consultant presence in hospitals over an expanded working day. This would run from 8am to 8pm. Consultants could be rostered on five out of any seven days.

* Obligation to co-operate with Department of Health proposals for a new grade of senior hospital doctor

* “Significant reduction" in the amount of historic leave that can be taken by consultants