Legislation paves way for pay deal for consultants, public health doctors

Move by Cabinet is aimed at getting around legal ban on public service pay increases

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Cabinet has approved new legislation which will be the first step in plans to introduce new pay and contractual arrangements for public health doctors and medical consultants working in the public system.

Ministers on Tuesday backed proposals for new legislation which would permit the Government to sanction pay rises for groups in the public service.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath received Cabinet approval to allow him to draft new legislation which would get around a legal ban on pay increases under financial emergency legislation and to provide for greater flexibility in dealing with key policy commitments.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has identified as priority areas, a new structure for public health doctors, a key group involved in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the introduction of a new Sláintecare contract for hospital consultants under which medical specialists would treat only public patients.

Earlier this month public health doctors warned they would ballot for strike action before Christmas if the Government did not resolve a long-running pay issue.

Last December the then government proposed that consultants who gave a commitment to working only in public hospitals would be offered a salary of up to €250,000 under a Sláintecare contract.

Mr Donnelly said on Tuesday: “One of the priorities of Sláintecare is to enable public hospitals to exclusively serve public patients. A cornerstone of this is the new Sláintecare contract. This required enabling legislation, which was agreed by Cabinet today. We will now be able to move in the coming months to finalise the Sláintecare contract in consultation with unions. “

Mr Donnelly said the proposed new enabling legislation “was also required to enable public health doctors to move to consultant contracts”.

“For far too long public health doctors have been waiting for these contracts. The agreement today is a major step forward for public health in Ireland, and this is one of several steps we are taking to support public health in Ireland.”

Earlier this month the Irish Medical Organisation maintained that public health doctors were playing a crucial role in the battle against Covid-19 but were just getting “lip service” for their efforts.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has been campaigning for some time for public health to become a consultant-led service and for public health specialists to be awarded consultant contracts “to reflect their expertise and specialist skills”.

Public health specialists earn € 113,822 at present. Hospital consultants with a type-A contract - which permits them to treat only public patients - and have a pay scale that ranges from €141,026 to €195,653.

The then government said last December that from this year medical specialists would be appointed under a new Sláintecare consultant contract which will not allow private practice.

The then then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also said a net 1,000 additional hospital consultants over the next 10 years.

The Department of Health said under the the Sláintecare contract, pay would be set at up to €222,460, rising further to €252,150 by July 2022.

The dealine for introducing the public-only hospital consultant contract was delayed by the pandemic and the change of government.Talks with medical organisations will be needed as will new legislation before any such new contract can be put in place.