Harney agrees pay increase for consultants


MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney has given approval for the payment of significantly higher salaries for hospital consultants under the terms of a revised contract.

The Minister sanctioned, the new payments which will see consultants receive salaries of up to €240,000 per year in some cases, at the end of last week on foot of a verification process carried out by the Health Service Executive (HSE). The new increased salaries will be backdated to the beginning of January.

The introduction of the new contract, which the Government maintains will result in major work practice changes and greater benefits for public patients, will cost the exchequer about €140 million this year in gross terms and €72 million net after taxes and levies.

Under the new contract some consultants will see their salaries rise by between €50,000 and €60,000.

As part of the new contract, hospital consultants will work a longer week spread over an extended day. They will also be rostered for duties at weekends.

They will also work within teams under new clinical directors. There will also be new restrictions on private practice in public hospitals.

A spokesman for Ms Harney said last night that the verification process carried out by the HSE had provided demonstrable evidence of new working practice reforms being carried out in the overwhelming majority of cases as well as of demonstrable benefits for public patients.

He said that around 1,300 consultants had been assessed as part of the verification process, and that the remainder would be assessed in the near future.

The spokesman said that to date 25 clinical directors had been appointed in hospitals, and that a further 13 would be taken on in the near future.

Ultimately, the Department of Health plans to have 77 clinical directors working in hospitals. The department told medical organisations last week that just under 1,400 hospital consultants had so far signed up to the new contract.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said last night that the deal had yet to be offered to some academic medical consultants, while another category of senior doctors had until the end of this week to make a decision.

Ultimately, it is expected that up to 80 per cent of consultants will opt for the new contract.

A spokesman for the Minister said that on foot of the HSE verification report, she had given sanction for the commencement of the new payments with effect from the beginning of January.

He said that the cost of the new contract would be €140 million this year in gross terms but that in net terms after income tax, health levies and the new pension levy was taken into account the bill would be €72 million.

The introduction of the new contract for consultants is unlikely to please other health sector unions. Privately, some unions have contended that their members would view the new contract as a pay rise for hospital consultants even though it does involve a longer working week and new work practices.

A significant number of hospital consultants had signed up for the new contract from last summer and have been carrying out the reformed work practices since then.

However, the Government has maintained that there is no guarantee that the increased salary for the period from last summer to the end of 2008 would be paid. This amounted to about €78 million.

The department said this issue is still under review.