Consultants warn industrial action over two-tier pay system more likely

Doctors say Government tabled no concrete proposals at talks on Wednesday

Top Consultants

Among consultants there is a feeling that the Government does not grasp the scale of the problem. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The prospect of industrial action by consultants in hospitals is more likely after the Government failed to table proposals for tackling the two-tier pay system for doctors taken on after 2012, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO)has warned.

Nurses, meanwhile, said it was in the Government’s hands as to whether they went on strike over staff recruitment and retention difficulties.

Both the IMO and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) met with officials of the HSE, Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure on Wednesday on their response to the recent Public Service Pay Commission report on recruitment and retention issues in the health sector.

The IMO after the meeting expressed strong anger at the response of the Government to the report. It said there was a lack of willingness to address the severe problem of consultant recruitment.

“Despite the Pay Commission identifying recruitment issues, particularly in relation to consultants and the severe cuts new entrant consultants were subject to, the meeting produced no concrete proposals from the Government side and indeed paid little more than lip service to the issues identified or the recommendations of the Commission.”

“Not only were no proposals presented to address the crisis in our hospitals, the Government side is of the view that engagement on this urgent matter can be indefinitely delayed.”

Engagement

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said delegates at a special union conference next week would consider the Government proposals. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said delegates at a special union conference next week would consider the Government proposals. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The IMO urged the Government to seriously engage with it and to produce proposals to address the inability of the country’s public health services to fill consultant posts.

“ If such proposals are not forthcoming the IMO will consult further with members and while doctors have not traditionally tended to engage in industrial action to resolve matters, the frustration and anger at this issue which has been long running makes that prospect more likely.”

Dr Anthony O’Connor ,a consultant at Tallaght Hospital was appointed after 2012 said the Government did not grasp the scale of the problem.

“ The (pay) disparity will be up to €50,000 between doctors doing exactly the same job with the same level of responsibility. This, as confirmed by the Pay Commission, is a key driver of the inability of the HSE to recruit consultants to work in our hospitals. The Government approach is all the more mystifying given we are currently providing a service with 500 vacancies and have a record number of over 700,000 patients on waiting lists. This is going to get worse, even now we are failing in many cases to attract a single applicant for some posts.”

The Commission found there was no generalised recruitment and retention difficulties in the nursing and midwifery sectors but suggested allowances for staff in specific areas facing such problems could be increased by up to 20 per cent.

Cost

The Government has estimated the Commission’s recommendations could cost €20 million to implement.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said while the Government side at the talks accepted the Commission’s recommendations, some key information such as who exactly would get increased allowances and the implementation dates remained outstanding.

She said delegates at a special union conference next week would consider the Government proposals and judge whether these would be sufficient to alleviate the recruitment and retention problems.

She said the recent Pay Commission report had “a lot of contradictions “ in it.

Nurses are seeking across-the-board increases to secure pay parity with other graduate-entry grades in the health service such as physiotherapists.

Asked about potential industrial action by nurses, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said this was in the hands of the Government.

The HSE said a number of issues had been raised which required further clarity, primarily with regard to precise numbers encompassed by particular elements of the Pay Commission report.

“ The employers have undertaken to revert to the unions in respect of those mates over the next 48 hours.”