Howlin 'disappointed' by consultant deal collapse


MINISTER FOR Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said he is very disappointed at the collapse of a deal with hospital consultants on work practice changes.

The agreement, which the Government hoped would generate savings of €200 million a year, was brokered at the Labour Relations Commission last month. However, it effectively unravelled in a dispute over how it would be implemented. Management yesterday formally referred the issue of the reforms to the Labour Court for binding arbitration under the Croke Park agreement.

Management had planned to implement the reform measures by November 5th.

Speaking on the issue yesterday, Mr Howlin said: “It is incumbent on everybody to embrace the change agenda, that’s what I’ve said, and particularly those who are actually among the best paid in the country, to understand what needs to be done.

“We worked out an agreement that needs to be implemented without further delay. We need the changed practices to have a much more efficient hospital service but we also need the money.”

Minister for Health James Reilly, who had warmly welcomed the agreement when it was brokered and who had flagged the potential for generating €200 million in savings, did not comment yesterday on the deal’s collapse.

However, Fianna Fáil said Dr Reilly should explain why the “breakthrough” he welcomed in September had come to nothing.

“It is clear now that Minister Reilly was misleading the public when he hailed his major breakthrough on September 17th, in an effort to divert attention from his disastrous handling of the primary care centre announcement,” Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said.

He suggested that the time had come for pay cuts for consultants.

“The Irish Hospital Consultants Association is not a direct party to the Croke Park agreement. Why has James Reilly been tiptoeing gingerly around them in the way he has been since taking office? In my view, we have come to the point where consultants need to be told in no uncertain terms that either they voluntarily cut their pay or a cut will be imposed.”

The consultants’ association said it was currently surveying its members on the reform proposals and the process would be completed by October 26th. It said it would advise the Health Service Executive of the outcome.

The association’s position remains that it cannot enter into a collective agreement and that consultants have a legal contract.

“It appears to the association that the HSE is being most unhelpful by now referring the proposals to the Labour Court for a recommendation where no disagreement has yet been identified on the proposals. This is most regrettable and cannot be in the best interests of patients or taxpayers,” it said.