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Consultant agitation mounts as IMO set to hold ballot

The IMO Council has voted in favour of organising a ballot of its consultant and NCHD members to undertake industrial action in support of “consultant pay equality”.

The decision to hold a ballot was unanimously supported by a national meeting of IMO consultants and NCHD members yesterday evening in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Stillorgan, Dublin.

This decision will escalate the IMO’s #FightForFairness campaign to pressurise the Government to address the consultant recruitment and retention crisis.

The vote allows the IMO to undertake a ballot of its consultant and NCHD members in the coming weeks, to seek approval for measures up to and including industrial action.

The IMO’s key demands are an immediate end to “the pay inequality faced by consultants which is based solely on when they were appointed”; and an immediate increase in the number of consultants employed in the health system in line with recommended ratios.

Hospital consultants have never taken strike action in Ireland. In 2013, IMO NCHDs voted in favour of industrial action over dangerously long working hours, highlighted in the ‘24 No More’ campaign.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Clive Kilgallen, Chair of the IMO consultants committee, said: “This vote emphasises the frustration and anger that consultants and NCHDs feel regarding the state of the health service in 2019. Doctors never want to undertake industrial action, but this Government’s lack of engagement leaves us with no option. Our health service has been crippled by this Government’s appalling policy decisions, leaving patients suffering in badly under-staffed and under-resourced hospitals. We need meaningful reform now.”

Dr Matthew Sadlier, a member of the IMO consultants committee and a former President of the IMO, said: “This crisis is a direct result of the decision by the Government in 2012 to enforce a pay disparity of over 30 per cent among consultants based solely on when they were appointed. The IMO has spent years warning the Government that this would have significant consequences, but regrettably it has not listened.”

Dr Anthony O’Connor, a member of the IMO consultants committee, said: “This week, hospitals recorded the second-highest ever level of patients on trolleys and we currently have 770,000 patients on hospital waiting lists. How can the Government stand by doing nothing while this is happening? We must see urgent action on this issue.”

After a meeting with officials from the Department of Health, HSE and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on 17 October, the IMO set a 21-day deadline for the receipt of “serious proposals” from Government to address consultant recruitment issues. However, it said the Government had failed to put forward any proposals.

Meanwhile, the IHCA said yesterday it had met with officials from the Department of Health, HSE and Department of Public Expenditure.

The IHCA said it set out “several practical ways” to improve conditions for patients across public hospitals and reduce “the unacceptable delays in providing hospital care to those who need it”.

These proposals included ending “the existing pay inequity imposed on consultants appointed since October 2012”; improving governance standards in all public hospitals by ensuring that hospital management is held accountable for clinical concerns raised by consultants; and introduction of national standardised pathways of treatment and care in hospitals.

IHCA President Dr Donal O’Hanlon said: “Today was an important first step in discussing practical solutions that can be implemented without delay to prevent further suffering for those waiting far too long for hospital care.

“Our 3,000 hospital consultant members are challenged on a daily basis with the shocking implications for patients as a result of the deteriorating consultant recruitment and retention crisis which has resulted in 500 unfilled permanent consultant posts across our public hospitals. Consultants are acutely aware that in order to ensure that all patients have access to timely, safe care it is essential to have these posts filled urgently.”

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