The HSE has been forced to issue a clarifying letter following a backlash from doctors and consultants over a memo suggesting they would have to sign up to a contract they had not seen.
The letter from the HSE’s human resources director on October 27th to hospital groups appeared to suggest that new recruits would have to agree to the new contract for consultants, known as the Sláintecare contract, that is still being negotiated by the State’s health authorities and representative groups for medical consultants.
The new contract is part of the Government’s plan under the 10-year Sláintecare reform programme to take private healthcare out of public hospitals but has yet to be agreed.
The memo acknowledged that the new contract was still only a proposal and that the implementation date had yet to be agreed, but still stated that it would be “applicable to all new and replacement consultant contracts issued after the implementation date”.
The letter drew an angry response from doctors and consultants on social media in recent days and prompted the Irish Hospital Consultants Association to describe the HSE’s correspondence as having a “surprising, alarming and hostile tone”.
The Irish Medical Organisation described the tone and content of the memo, coming while negotiations were still ongoing, as "very concerning" and reflecting an attitude that was "far from collaborative".
The group said that it was “premature to ask applicants to indicate if they wish to proceed with an application on the basis of a contract they have yet to see or consider”.
On Thursday night HSE human resources director Anne Marie Hoey issued a clarifying letter saying that the new contract would apply to all consultant appointments from the date of its implementation and that any candidates being offered legacy contracts at that time could still accept them or the Sláintecare contract.
“The HSE want to be clear that applicants for consultant posts will not be asked to consider the Sláintecare contract before discussions in relation to it are completed and before an implementation date is set,” wrote Ms Hoey.
“This was not stated in the memo of October 27th and is not the case.”
Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, said that the October 27th letter was circulated as the HSE was concerned that hospitals were "holding back" on hiring consultants because of negotiations around the new Sláintecare contract and that it wanted "to keep things moving" on recruitment.
At the HSE’s weekly Covid-19 briefing, he accepted that the letter caused confusion and frustration and said that the clarification was being issued to address any concerns raised.
While acknowledging the frustration the letter caused, Mr Reid criticised comments directed at the HSE’s HR director on social media in response to the circular.
He described the response as “an unfair targeting of a senior manager”.
“While it has caused a level of confusion and frustration, which we acknowledge and have clarified, there is a level of attack on our HR director through social media which is completely inappropriate and unfair. That is not right and shouldn’t be tolerated,” he said.