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Divided we fall…

Unions representing nurses and midwives — most notably the INMO — sprang into action as nurses and midwives protested in the virtual world of Twitter and the physical world outside the NMBI’s offices in Dublin. The INMO quite plainly told its members to only pay the existing fee of €100, and quite clearly, were ‘not for turning’.

As column inches were filled, horns honked and politicians hummed sympathetically, it was with a sense of absolute inevitability that the NMBI announced the reversal of its decision.

Contrast this with doctors, and the recent registration fee increase from the Medical Council. Registration fees for fully-qualified doctors aged 69 years and under have increased from €535 to €605.

The IMO has termed the increase “not justified and unacceptable” and noted that it represented a 23 per cent rise over the past three years. But it has, so far, taken a much more low-key approach compared to that of the nursing unions.

Specifically, the Organisation informed the Medical Independent (MI) on 5 June: “The IMO has called on all NCHDs, public health doctors and community health doctors not to pay the increased amount. These doctors are asked to make the same payment that applied last year.”

The IMO initially asked any of its members who are employees and working solely in the public health service to participate in the campaign. “We are currently waiting for an opinion on whether we can include all doctors registered with the Medical Council,” the IMO informed MI.

The Organisation will meet with the Medical Council on 15 June; a meeting has also been agreed with the Department of Health.

This is all very interesting in many ways. But in the meantime, doubts fester. Can doctors truly unite as one entity? They have shown that they can, in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, the consequences of practising while unregistered are understood, and one-one wants to be the cat among the pigeons, risking Kingram House bearing down on them.

Doctors have legitimate complaints regarding the Medical Council, including the well-flagged issue concerning rental expenditure associated with the HQ. But perhaps there is an elephant in the room.

Just last week, in its new Annual Report, the Council pointed out that 2014 was a “year that posed financial challenges, which we have sought to address”.

According to CEO Ms Caroline Spillane: “The legislation prevents the Medical Council from diversifying its revenue in the way we would wish and unfortunately, most of the burden falls on doctors who fund the Council’s activities through their annual registration fees.

“We have engaged in rigorous financial planning to address the financial deficit we’ve been running and the Medical Council has made it a priority to ensure a surplus position by 2017 in order to address the accumulated deficit. Progress on this goal is already evident in our 2014 financial statement.”

The fact that the Council must rely so heavily on doctors’ registration fees to fund its ever-expanding range of functions seems somewhat extraordinary.

A case of Government passing the buck?

Perish the thought.

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