The Government intends to have a new public only consultant contract in place for hospital doctors this year, according to the Minister for Health.
Stephen Donnelly also promised a “root-and-branch” reform of the training system for non-consultant hospital doctors “so that Ireland is seen as one of the most attractive places in the English speaking world for doctors to work in”.
His preference is for a new consultant contract to be agreed with medical groups through negotiation, Mr Donnelly told the Dáil on Thursday.
The Minister said he was committed to restarting talks on the issue “very soon” with the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) under an independent chair.
The talks, which started last year, have stalled since the previous chair, barrister Marguerite Bolger, was appointed to the High Court. Five months on, the Government has yet to appoint a successor.
The contract is a central plank of Sláintecare health reforms aimed at moving private care out of public hospitals. Under draft proposals, it would offer a salary of up to €250,000 to consultants for public-only work.
Mr Donnelly told TDs that he does not have a date “right now” for when the talks will reconvene.
However, he added that his “hope is that they will reconvene very soon and certainly it is my intention and the Government’s intention that this contract will be in place this calendar year”.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall reminded the Minister that he told the IHCA’s conference last October he wanted the contract to be concluded “within weeks”.
“There has been huge slippage, and you have to question whether you are serious about this or not,” Ms Shortall said.
The draft contract, from what is known about it, would be very attractive to the many doctors who have left the State and who are looking for flexibility in their work, she added.
Mr Donnelly repeated that he and the Government were “fully committed” to getting the contract in place, but he added that the details of the negotiations were confidential. He said it was his “absolute intention” that the contract would be in place this year and would involve public-only work in public hospitals.
“That is a cornerstone of everything that we are doing,” he told Ms Shortall. “And I fully agree with the deputy, it must be attractive to our existing consultant cohort, to those abroad who want to come home and to the NCHDs coming through, so that Ireland is seen as one of the most attractive places certainly in the English speaking world for doctors to work.”