Few hospital consultants likely to sign new contract, says representative group

New contract offering basic annual salary range of €210,000-€252,000 prevents consultants from treating private patients in public hospitals

Few contracted hospital consultants are likely to take up a new contract offered to members of the profession by the Government, a representative group has said.

The public-only consultant contract will be available to all new entrants to the health service and existing contract holders can also sign-up.

It offers a basic annual salary range of between €210,000 and €252,000 as well as payments for continuing medical education, overtime and premium and on-call allowances. Along with valuable public-sector pension rights, these bring the value of the offer to as much as €300,000 a year for senior doctors, it is understood.

The contract will prevent consultants from treating private patients in public hospitals, and require them to be available for a 37-hour week between 8am and 10pm on weekdays and until 6pm on Saturdays. Any private patients must be treated off-site and in the consultants’ own time.

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Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the latest consultant contract would make medical services such as operating theatres and diagnostics available for longer hours. It is seen as a major step in the introduction of the Sláintecare health service reform plan.

However, Prof Robert Landers, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), said he did not think many contracted consultants would take up the offer.

He told RTÉ Radio’s News at One that the contract was really about new consultants and that the association was concerned there was “some overreach” involved such as expanding the working day to 10pm and Saturday cover.

He said there was already a high degree of burnout and consultants did not have to work the same hours in Canada or Australia. There was no point putting a consultant on the floor at night-time if there were no nurses, anaesthetists and support staff, he added.

Mr Donnelly said the new contract was different from the existing contract in that it recognises the pay cut imposed in 2012 during the bailout era. Those moving to the new “public only” contracts would have this cut reversed, he said.

Mr Donnelly said it had been estimated that about €460 million would be lost in terms of income from private beds in public hospitals and this would have to be filled by the exchequer. He said he hoped the new contract would attract some consultants back from abroad.

Prof Landers said IHCA members would now consider the proposals but it was starting from a “very bad place” with one in four consultant posts vacant. There were several critical issues that remained “unfinished”, he said.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said it would engage with its membership with a view to responding to the Department of Health next month. The organisation had been involved in negotiations with the department and the Health Service Executive to “ensure that any contract offered is capable of resolving the chronic recruitment and retention crisis”, said Prof Matthew Sadlier, chairman of the IMO’s consultant committee.

He noted that there were currently more than 900 vacant consultant posts in public health services. Recruitment issues were “directly impacting on the provision of timely care to patients”, he said, leading to unsafe waiting lists of almost a million patients and “intolerable waiting times”.

“There are significant problems in our health services in terms of capacity issues where we have too few beds, too few doctors and other healthcare professionals and incredibly challenging working conditions,” he said.

The IMO had “concerns” regarding the proposals for a new contract, such as how some of the proposals could be implemented “given the serious staffing issues at consultant level”, Prof Sadlier added.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a media monitor and reporter