Hospital consultants vote no confidence in Simon Harris

IHCA to ‘significantly escalate’ its campaign over two-tier pay system for specialists

Dr Laura Durcan, vice-president of the IHCA with president Dr Donal O’Hanlon, Dr Gabrielle Colleran and Martin Varley, the association’s secretary general, at the launch of its pre-Budget 2020 submission. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

Dr Laura Durcan, vice-president of the IHCA with president Dr Donal O’Hanlon, Dr Gabrielle Colleran and Martin Varley, the association’s secretary general, at the launch of its pre-Budget 2020 submission. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

 

The leadership of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has voted no confidence in Minister for Health Simon Harris at an emergency meeting held on Saturday to consider what it described as the crisis in the public system.

The IHCA maintained the Minister was “shirking his responsibility” to fix the health service.

The IHCA national council at its meeting also decided to “significantly escalate” its current campaign seeking an end to the lower pay rates in place for medical specialists, which it argues is leading to posts remaining vacant and care for patients being affected.

However, the IHCA declined to comment on the nature of its planned escalated campaign. The organisation has a policy of not engaging in industrial action.

The IHCA said the vote of no confidence in the Minister represented an indication of the extent to which consultants had lost faith in the ability of Mr Harris to provide timely, quality hospital care or to improve conditions for patients.

It said that even ahead of the traditional winter surge in demands on the hospital system, recent weeks had seen record numbers of patients being treated on trolleys, unacceptably long waits in emergency departments, particularly for vulnerable elderly patients and increasing numbers of patients - now at one million - waiting many months and years to access care.

IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon said consultants did not believe that the Minister had the authority, understanding, inclination or experience to deliver timely, quality hospital care for patients.

He said Mr Harris had “ become increasingly complacent and deaf to the suffering of patients across Ireland”.

“After three years in the office, Minister Harris has presided over an unacceptable increase of 153, 914 patients on the outpatient waiting list since he became Minister for Health. This amounts to a 37 per cent increase or almost five additional patients every hour. While over the same period, the number of patients treated on trolleys has increased by 36 percent since May 2016.”

“Ensuring all patients can access timely, quality hospital care is a challenge. Hospital consultants working on wards and caring for patients know and live it each day. But it’s not an excuse for doing nothing.

“Consultants can no longer support a Minister who is shirking his responsibility, as Minister for Health, to fix our health service and is failing to engage with the IHCA, whose more than 3,000 consultant members are committed to improving conditions for patients.”

Last week the Minister invited the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which also represents consultants, to talks this week on healthcare reforms but not specifically on ending the lower -pay rates in place for specialists recruited over recent years.

The IMO is affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which negotiated the current public service agreement with the Government. The IHCA is not linked to the trade union movement.

The IHCA is likely to be invited to talks with the Government at a later date.

In his letter to the IMO, Mr Harris said he wanted to invite the organisation to attend discussions with health service management and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform “to explore how the challenges faced by our public health service might be considered in the context of the current health reform programme”.

The Minister suggested in his letter the talks could consider the broader Sláintecare reforms and the proposals on eliminating private medicine from public hospitals as proposed in the recent De Buitleir report.

The letter did not specifically suggest that the talks would aim at ending the two-tier pay system which medical organisations contend is leading to the recruitment and retention difficulties being experienced in hospitals around the country.

Medical organisations contend that there are about 500 consultant posts not filled on a permanent basis.

Mr Harris said in the summer that the current two-tier pay system, under which new-entrant consultants appointed since 2012 receive around €50,000 less than colleagues who have been in the position for longer, was not fair.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said on Sunday that the Minister looked forward to his department meeting with the Irish Medical Organisation to discuss issues of recruitment and retention of consultants this week.

“As the Minister has already stated, he looks forward to engaging with the IHCA in due course.”