Minister angry at stance of consultants
ANGER IS growing in Government circles at the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association over its failure to participate in talks at the Labour Relations Commission on work practices and other reforms.
Minister for Health James Reilly said yesterday he was losing patience “big time”. He said he intended to discuss “further options” for dealing with the issue with Cabinet colleagues and the Attorney General.
It is understood the commission yesterday said it could not secure agreement for participation in the talks, which were due to start today. The talks were to deal with reforms proposed by management under the Croke Park agreement.
Informed sources said last night that one option open to the Minister would be to seek guidance from the national body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park deal on whether consultants, by not taking part in the talks, were outside the protections in the accord regarding pay cuts.
Dr Reilly has sought the introduction of greater flexibility and work practice reforms on the part of consultants as an alternative to the introduction of further pay cuts as set out in the programme for government.
Direct talks between health service management and representative bodies for hospital consultants broke down over the summer. Management then referred the issue to the commission under the provisions of the Croke Park agreement. Ultimately, the issue could go to the Labour Court for a binding ruling.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said earlier this week that he wanted the issue of hospital consultant reforms to go to the Labour Court next month.
However, the consultants’ association rejected claims by Dr Reilly that it was vacillating over reforms. Last night the association blamed the HSE for delays in the negotiations.
The association’s secretary general, Martin Varley, said it had been seeking a response from the HSE on some points of fact for more than a month.
Mr Varley said the HSE had responded through the commission yesterday and the association would assess this response in the coming days.
It is understood the consultants had raised three issues with the HSE.
It had sought assurances that the HSE recognised each consultant had an individual contract of employment and that the conciliation process at the commission was non-binding.
It also raised concerns at some of the items on the management’s agenda for reform. Sources said these included Government plans for a new consultant grade and changes to arrangements for historic rest days.
Speaking yesterday, Dr Reilly did not specifically name the consultants’ association. However, it is understood from informed sources that this is who he had in mind.
Dr Reilly said the issue of the reforms was not going to go away and had to be addressed.
However, he wanted to be fair to those consultants who were co-operating by delivering change on the ground, which had resulted in substantial savings since last year. “I don’t want to be hurting those consultants who are delivering while the ones who aren’t delivering get away scot-free,” he said, adding that a cap on pay was not the answer.
Mr Varley said consultants had delivered very significant flexibility since the inception of the Croke Park agreement.
In its reform proposals, health service management sought “demonstrable” changes to work practices, attendance patterns and reporting relationships for hospital consultants.
On the health cutbacks, Dr Reilly said he had no problem in acknowledging that he had failed to communicate to the people who feared the most from the HSE cuts announced last week and who had camped out outside Government Buildings. “So for that I am deeply sorry.”
He said he wanted to ensure patients were protected to the greatest extent so that services were “the last thing affected”.