Consultant work reforms due in place by November


HOSPITALS ARE to begin implementing work practice reforms for hospital consultants by November 5th at the latest, even if medical organisations have not completed a consultation process on the deal that emerged from talks at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) last month, health service management has signalled.

Minister for Health James Reilly had initially said he wanted the new roster arrangements and other changes, which he maintained could deliver savings of €200 million, put in place by early October.

However, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association are still consulting members and ballots have yet to get under way on the proposals. Neither organisation has so far come out publicly to back the proposals brokered at the LRC.

It is understood that management set out the new deadline for implementation of the reforms in correspondence to the organisations in recent days.

Health Service Executive national director for human resources Barry O’Brien said last night that hospitals and relevant senior management would be advised that if they proposed to introduce altered roster arrangements for consultants under the terms of the LRC proposals, they would be in a position to do so by November 5th, with or without the ballots being completed.

He said the Croke Park agreement required staff to co-operate with the implementation of change even if a process was still under way.

Mr O’Brien said he planned to meet the consultants’ representative organisations next week to clarify their position on the LRC proposals.

He said the management had understood that the organisations would recommend acceptance of the package of reforms to their members, with the exception of those items which were being referred to the Labour Court.

Last week, the IMO said it would not begin balloting members on the proposals until the Labour Court ruled on two outstanding issues – these are in relation to rest days and payment for second opinions in the area of mental health.

The Irish Times reported last week that the consultants’ association had told members in an internal circular that, contrary to media reports, no agreement had been reached on the reform proposals brokered at the LRC talks.

Dr Reilly is to address the annual conference of the IHCA in Galway today and the issue of work practice reforms is expected to feature strongly in his speech.

Parallel to the recent talks at the LRC on work practice reforms, the Government unilaterally introduced a 30 per cent pay cut in the rates for newly appointed consultants – a move which has been strongly criticised by the IMO and IHCA.

Key elements of the proposals brokered at the LRC include:

* Consultants will be available for rostering for any five days out of seven as opposed to weekdays as at present;

* There can be rostering of consultants on a 16/7 (8am to midnight) or 24/7 basis in services where this is required;

* Clinical directors will have a much-strengthened management role in respect of consultants;

* Consultants will co-operate with a range of measures to support improved community and mental health services;

* Consultants will comply with contractual requirements regarding private practice;

* Consultants will commit to expeditious processing and signing of claims for submission to private health insurers; and

* There will be more cost-effective arrangements for funding of continuing medical education.