It is fair to say the reaction from doctors to the new Sláintecare consultant contract has been far from positive. Both the IHCA and the IMO revealed the extent of this dissatisfaction on Thursday 7 March. Early that afternoon, the IHCA released the results of a survey of its members on the issue.
According to the survey, 73 per cent of respondents were not confident the new contract would address the consultant recruitment and retention crisis.
Also, 67 per cent of specialist trainee respondents said they were “less likely or not influenced” to stay in Ireland to take up the contract.
Of those practising abroad, 77 per cent indicated they were “less likely or not influenced” to return to Ireland based on the contract.
“Under this new contract, we face being stretched even further with no clarity on how it will attract and retain the additional consultants our patients need,” according to a statement from the Association.
Later in the day, the IMO announced that its consultant and NCHD members voted to reject the contract.
According to the ballot results, 57 per cent of current contract holders and 64 per cent of NCHDs would not take up the new contract.
Also, 59 per cent of consultants currently working overseas said they would not return to Ireland to take up the contract.
The Organisation called on the Government to re-engage on key points around hours of work, rostering arrangements and location, and work with the representative bodies to secure “a contract that works for all”.
“The Government took the unilateral decision to conclude negotiations on a new contract and to present a final document on a take-it or leave-it basis without the agreement of the IMO,” said Prof Matthew Sadlier, Chair of the IMO consultant committee.
“While we accept there was progress on some issues, we were very clear at the negotiations that a lack of safeguards around rostering, location, and sufficient number of medical and other staff would make the terms unworkable in practice and create huge uncertainty and inequity.
“The Irish health services desperately need more consultants and while we hope this contract will achieve that, there are valid concerns amongst doctors.”
Also on 7 March, after the IHCA and the IMO released their statements, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced the publication of the 2023 Waiting List Action Plan.
Under the plan, €363 million has been allocated to reduce and reform hospital waiting lists and waiting times.
The plan refers to the importance of the Sláintecare contract and how it would allow for “a significant expansion of consultant numbers and availability”.
“The new contract doubles the normal working week, extending the working day late into the evenings and on weekends,” according to the document.
Given the negative initial response to the contract, however, it is unlikely to offer a significant contribution to addressing the health service’s chronic waiting list problem, at least in the short-term.
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