Minister for Health Simon Harris has pulled out of a planned address to the annual conference of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) in Dublin on Saturday.
The IHCA described the Minister’s decision not to attend as “ extremely disappointing” and a missed opportunity. Individual doctors accused Mr Harris of “cowardice” on social media.
According to his officials, Mr Harris has a “diary issue” that prevents him addressing the conference on Saturday evening.
The union said it had expected the Minister to use his speech to set out how he planned to deal with major challenges facing the health service.
Medical representative bodies are waiting on the Government to convene talks aimed at addressing the lower pay in place for consultants appointed after October 2012.
Mr Harris had promised to invite medical organisations to these talks in September.
The Department of Health said on Friday that it remained the intention to send out these invitations to talks on consultants' pay this month. "It is welcome that the IHCA has placed a focus on mental health and Minister Jim Daly is attending the conference," a spokeswoman said.
“Minister Harris had a diary issue on this occasion but he and his Department regularly engage with consultant organisations and he expects that engagement to intensify in the very near future.”
The IHCA in a statement said the Minister’s private office had confirmed formally on Friday that Mr Harris would not be attending its annual conference.
The IHCA said it and the 3,100 hospital consultants which it represented were extremely disappointed at the decision by Minister Harris to withdraw from attending the conference on Saturday.
“As we head into the winter period, a time when our acute public hospitals are most stretched, and with one million patients now on waiting lists, one-in-five of all permanent consultant posts unfilled and over 100, 000 patients treated on trolleys each year, the Minister’s address to our conference was expected to set out how he intends to begin to fix these huge issues for our patients.”
“It is regrettable that the Minister will now not attend and that this opportunity has been lost.”