Hospital consultants and non-consultant doctors set to ballot for industrial action

IMO warns vote will take place in 21 days unless move made to end two-tier pay system

Medical bodies argue that  lower pay rates for newer-entrant consultants has led to hospitals being unable to fill about 500 specialist posts on a permanent basis. File photograph: Getty

Medical bodies argue that lower pay rates for newer-entrant consultants has led to hospitals being unable to fill about 500 specialist posts on a permanent basis. File photograph: Getty

 

Hospital consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors are to ballot for industrial action early next month unless the Government sets out concrete proposals for dealing with the existing two-tier pay system.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said at talks on Thursday the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure failed to put forward any proposals to address what it described as “the crisis in hospital consultant recruitment”.

“In light of the inaction of the Government, the IMO has been left with little choice but to set a 21-day deadline for the receipt of serious proposals to address the consultant recruitment crisis, or it will proceed to ballot its consultant and non-consultant hospital doctor (NCHD) members for industrial action,” the doctors’ trade union said.

Medical representative bodies maintain the current two-tier system can see consultants appointed after October 2012 receive up to €50,000 per year less than more longer-serving colleagues.

Medical bodies argue that the lower pay rates for newer-entrant consultants has led to hospitals being unable to fill about 500 specialist posts on a permanent basis.

The IMO said the current arrangements were leading to a mass emigration of doctors in training, “depriving us of our next generation of consultants”.

It said the Irish health service already had the lowest number of specialists per capita in the EU with particular shortages in areas such as ophthalmology, paediatrics and psychiatry.

The talks on Thursday represented the first phase of an initiative announced several weeks ago by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Mr Harris in August described the two-tier pay system as “unfair” and said he would invite medical organisations to take part in a process in the autumn.

Wider health reform

The Irish Times reported on Thursday that Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe had written to Mr Harris directly several days after his comments were reported in the paper to express his strong concerns at the move.

Mr Harris’ initiative subsequently evolved into a broader process on wider health reform such as in relation to private practice in public hospitals and the and Sláintecare proposals and not specifically about new entrant remuneration.

It is understood the IMO said on Thursday that it would not discuss broader reforms until the pay parity issue was addressed.

Dr Matthew Sadlier, consultant psychiatrist and a former President of the IMO, said that continued Government inaction was inexcusable.

“The Government has shown a complete lack of interest in producing any substantive solutions to this crisis which is adversely affecting patients.

We want to provide our patients with the best possible quality of care, but we can only do that in a system that is safe and properly resourced. We need to recruit more specialists into the vacant posts before any reform will be possible.”

A senior non-consultant hospital doctor said: “This is a vicious cycle for which the Government must take sole responsibility. This pay inequality has led to mass medical emigration, particularly among younger doctors, which leads to more pressurised conditions, and inevitably a lower standard of care for patients.”

The IMO was invited by Mr Harris to attend the talks first as it is affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) which negotiated the current public service pay agreement with the Government.

Other organisations such as the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, which is not formally linked to the trade union movement, are expected to be invited to subsequent talks with the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure in the weeks ahead.