IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine told delegates at the Association’s annual conference on 9 October that “meaningful talks” had begun in the negotiations for the new consultant contract. Prof Irvine admitted the talks had “got off to a bad start in May”.
“But we do have now a terms of reference that we are working with and we are beginning meaningful talks,” he added. “We were cautiously encouraged that the first item on the agenda was those consultants for whom, for no reason other than they were appointed after 2012, are paid less than their peers.”
He drew a “direct link” between unfilled consultant posts and long waiting lists for patients. However Prof Irvine noted that “in recent days”, the IHCA had “been asked to park the post-2012 inequity strand of the discussions” and that the issue could be revisited at a later date.
Speaking before the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly addressed the conference, Prof Irvine told delegates that “equal pay for equal work and equal responsibility are indisputable principles in a democracy. This principle was ripped up in 2012, deeply damaging trust and directly contributing to patient waiting times.”
According to the IHCA’s annual report, its contract negotiation group (CNG) “has met numerous times in recent months, including meetings with Department of Health officials and the HSE to discuss the new consultant contract
proposed in May”.
Prof Alan Irvine
The group is chaired by Prof Irvine. A sub-group of the CNG has also participated in negotiations chaired by Ms Marguerite Bolger SC, which commenced in early September. IHCA Secretary General Mr Martin Varley told delegates that the draft Sláintecare contract proposals “must be modified in negotiations if we are to fill vacant posts and if we are to be competitive in recruiting in the future…. We are committed to negotiations in good faith.”
Regarding the Government’s position, Minister Donnelly told the conference that he would like to see a new consultant contract agreed “within weeks”. He also noted that there was a “rocky start” to negotiations earlier this year. He said that he knew the issue of “pay equity” was a “top priority” for the Association and that it “can be considered within the framework of these talks”.
“I convened the talks in order to come to an agreeable solution on a new and attractive public-only contract,” the Minister told the conference. “After a rocky start several months ago, I listened carefully to your concerns. I appointed an independent Chair of the highest calibre. The issue of pay equity, I know, is an issue of top priority for you and your organisation and it can be considered within the framework of these talks…. I’m advised there has been constructive engagement this week, which is great to hear, and there [will be] more intensive engagement in the coming days and weeks.”
The Minister said that because the talks were ongoing, he was restricted in what he could comment upon. He also recognised “significant” recruitment and retention issues in regard to consultants in Ireland.