Re-engagement between medical representative bodies and health service management on a new consultant contract is expected soon, with an independent Chair to oversee negotiations due to be appointed imminently, the Medical Independent (MI) understands.
Talks on the contract stalled at the end of 2021. The failure to replace the previous Chair, Ms Marguerite Bolger, who was appointed as a High Court judge in January, has held up the process this year.
However, during the national consultant meeting at the IMO AGM on 28 May, the Organisation’s CEO Ms Susan Clyne said it was expected that a new Chair “will be agreed in the coming days” and “re-engagement” will happen shortly.
A Department of Health spokesperson informed MI on 31 May: “Arrangements are being progressed in relation to the new Chair with an appointment expected shortly. It would be inappropriate to comment further.” Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also referred to recent “progress” on the issue of re-engagement during his speech at the AGM.
Following the speech, MI asked the Minister about his recent statement that he hoped a new contract would be in place this year, given the significant delays that have occurred to date.
“We do need it agreed this year, it has to be agreed this year,” the Minister said.
“…. We have had good engagement with the IMO, we have had good engagement with the IHCA. I want to see everyone back in the room quickly. The soundings are positive in terms of re-engagement. But I want to respect that process – obviously, it’s a confidential process – to give all sides the space to see where they can go. I believe that there is a very attractive, new public contract that is true to the Sláintecare principle of taking private work out of our public hospitals.”
The negotiations were described as “slow” and “challenging” at the AGM.
Prof Matthew Sadlier, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director, North Dublin, told the consultant meeting that the talks between September and December last year “can best be described as challenging”.
“It was slow, it was delayed; we got stuck on a number of issues.”
The new IMO President Dr Clive Kilgallen told MI the union was ready to negotiate an agreement.
Asked about the Minister’s comments that he would like a new contract in place this year, Dr Kilgallen said “we are not the ones who are stopping anything. We are always happy to get moving. We are the Irish Medical Organisation and we are in the business of doing negotiations. Our telephone is ready to take the call.”
Meanwhile, Dr Kilgallen said the ongoing appointment of new public health consultants would be one of the most “important” developments during his time as President.
Last year public health specialists in the IMO voted to approve an agreement with the Department of Health, which included a commitment to establish 84 consultant posts to be recruited on a phased basis by December 2023.
“Here is a massive expansion in public health doctors,” said Dr Kilgallen.
“After 20 years, they managed to get consultant status. What does that mean? It allows them to have a contract and conditions that allows them to do the job that they are supposed to be doing. They say they are now in a position where they can start to build a public healthcare system that is fit for purpose.”
On potential industrial action by NCHDs, Dr Kilgallen said: “When I’ve heard stories, things haven’t fundamentally changed since I was an NCHD. But it really does have to change.” In his address at the AGM, Dr Kilgallen noted that many NCHDs were working “between 70 and 80 hours a week; with many of them working shifts of more than 24 hours. They are not even being paid fully for the hours they work.” He said that “we don’t want industrial action – nobody does, but something has to give”.
Dr Kilgallen also told MI that today’s trainees have a different demographic profile compared to those in the past. Many may have “had previous jobs, they’ve had previous experiences. Sometimes they are married or have a family. So we need a healthcare system that embraces their energy and life experiences…. They have solutions and actually they are the ones that are going to be dealing with the healthcare system long after I’m retired. So that is a huge issue and we want to sort it out. And of course, the consultant contract is significant as well in terms of that.”
Irish Medical Organisation, Annual General Meeting, Aviva Stadium, 28 May 2022.