IMO to delay ballot on plans to alter consultants' work practices

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 01:00

IN ANOTHER blow to the Government’s reform plans for hospital consultants, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) is to delay a planned ballot on proposals to change work practices until after the Labour Court rules on a number of outstanding issues.

The Irish Times reported yesterday that the Irish Hospital Consultants Association had told its members in an internal circular that, contrary to media commentary, no agreement had been reached on the proposals for reform brokered at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) earlier this month.

A meeting of the IMO’s consultants’ committee on Wednesday night decided not to put the proposals to ballot until the full package had been determined after the court ruled on two binding issues.

A number of outstanding issues in relation to rest days and some reforms in the mental health area have been referred to the Labour Court.

The HSE’s director of human resources, Barry O’Brien, said yesterday it had indicated to the consultants’ organisations at the recent Labour Relations Commission talks that it wanted a formal reply to the proposals by October 1st.

Following the conclusion of the LRC talks last week, Minister for Health James Reilly said the proposals were being backed by the consultants’ representative bodies.

However, as well as postponing the ballot, the IMO plans to write to Dr Reilly seeking a meeting over its concerns, particularly in regard to what it describes as his “unfair and iniquitous” proposal to reduce the salaries of new consultants.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association has already said the pay cut proposals were “unacceptable”.

The Government yesterday released the full details of the new pay rates to be applied to consultants appointed from the beginning of next month.

Parallel to the recent talks on work practice reforms, the Government decided to cut pay rates for new entrants by 30 per cent.

In a letter to the HSE the Department of Health said the new rates would not apply to doctors who had already been offered contracts at the 2011 rates.

It also said those who had been successful at interview and who were awaiting Public Appointment Service and/or HSE clearance would not be affected by the pay reduction.

However, the Department of Health letter said that “any posts that are to be filled from interviews which have not yet taken place will be subject to the new scales”.

The reductions will see pay for new consultants with a type “A” (public patient only) contract fall from €166,000 to €116,207.

The pay rate for a new academic consultant with a type “A” contract will reduce from €208,488 to €145,942.

The Government had signalled that it wanted to bring pay rates for academic consultants, the highest earning doctors, down below its official pay ceiling of €200,000.

The IMO is to warn the Minister that he risked losing the prospect of greater work flexibility from consultants if he pressed ahead with the plan to cut the pay rates for new consultants.

“It is utterly unfair to have one person earning significantly less than others in the same team, doing the same job,” said Steve Tweed, IMO industrial relations director.

“This is going to cause serious problems over time.”

Mr Tweed pointed out that the proposal to cut new consultant salaries was put forward unilaterally by the Department of Health after last week’s talks with representative groups and did not form part of the discussions.

He claimed Dr Reilly had subsequently linked the two elements, and the IMO therefore had to consider them together.

“The Minister has effectively introduced a pay reduction for people when they get promoted. This is against the spirit of the Croke Park agreement,” said Mr Tweed.

If the proposal went ahead it could see a locum specialist registrar earning more than a consultant appointed under the new lower payscale, he added.

Non-consultant hospital doctors who are members of the IMO are planning a major lobbying campaign against the proposals, the details of which have yet to be worked out.

Mr O’Brien said the issue of consultants’ pay was a matter for Government and Government pay policy.

He said the decision to introduce the new rates had been taken.

In a letter dated September 25th to the Minister, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association secretary general Martin Varley said the move to cut the pay rates was “short-sighted and therefore unacceptable to the association”.

He said specialists and other highly-trained doctors who had intended taking up consultant positions in Ireland viewed the new terms very negatively and had changed their minds.

Mr Varley said it was unfair to target new consultants with another cut “as they have been cut by some 40 per cent in the past three years”.

This, he claimed, was much more than any other public service group.