Medical consultants claim pay concerns require ‘unique’ action

Cross-public-service approach to two-tier remuneration a ‘non-runner’, says IMO

New Government proposals to address the controversial system of lower pay rates for recently recruited staff in the public service would not be adequate to deal with the two-tier remuneration for hospital consultants, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said.

The doctors’ trade union said such a cross-public-service approach to dealing with the issue would be a “non-runner”.

Incoming IMO president Dr Padraig McGarry said the consultant pay issue was unique and required a specific response from Government.

He said this had been acknowledged by the Public Service Pay Commission in a report last autumn.

Earlier this week, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said there would be “full consideration” given to addressing the two-tier pay system either in negotiations in a new public service pay deal or in any earlier talks that may take place.

Dr McGarry said the understanding between the Government and the teaching unions about the possible elimination of two-tier pay scales for teachers which had been reported this week would not be adequate to deal with the consultant issue.

“That approach is a non-runner. The consultants’ pay issue is unique and requires a specific response from Government,” he said.

Dr McGarry noted the two-tier pay system was directly contributing to a shortage of consultants and adding to delays for patients in getting treatment.

“Ireland has become a cold house for consultants and that is highlighted by the arbitrary and unjust cuts introduced to the salaries of consultants hired since October 2012,” he said.

Fempi cuts

“More consultants are leaving Ireland to work abroad and there are over 500 vacant consultant posts which can’t be filled.”

However, Dr McGarry said the recent agreement between the IMO and the Government on the reversal of the controversial Fempi (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) cuts and the allocation of over €200 million to general practice was “cause for encouragement”.

Separately, the IMO's outgoing president Dr Peadar Gilligan told the conference that the medical profession in Ireland had become "increasingly tribal".

He said this “lack of unity was being exploited by those with motives other than the optimisation of patient care”.

“Doctors speaking with one voice on issues such as acute hospital capacity, access to diagnostics, resourcing of general practice and population health initiatives are far more likely to achieve the health service that we as doctors want to deliver for our patients.

“Doctors undermining others by word, act or deed is not in the interest of the profession or those for whom we care,” he said.

Dr Gilligan also said doctors in Ireland were “sick of being told how to do their jobs by people who do not do it”.

“Doctors are sick of the constant change agenda that often seems politically motivated rather than patient-centred.”

Bed shortage

On Thursday, the conference heard it can be difficult to get patients admitted to hospital to have tumours removed due to a lack of beds.

The chairman of the IMO's consultant committee, Dr Clive Kilgallen, said there was "a marked shortage of hospital beds".

He said elective admissions to hospital had effectively ground to a halt.

He said not all elective admissions were for simple procedures such as hernia operations. He said it could be difficult to have patients admitted to have tumours removed.

The conference passed a motion suggesting the Government’s proposals to put in place 2,600 additional hospital beds was insufficient.

Instead the conference said the Government should increase capacity of the hospital system by adding 5,000 beds.

Dr Kilgallen said hospital bed occupancy in Ireland was close to 100 per cent.

He said this was associated with poorer clinical outcomes and increased morbidity and mortality.

Doctors also called on the Government to put in place sufficient resources to meet a target of having patients dealt with in emergency departments and either sent home or placed in a bed within six hours.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent