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Minister ‘strongly’ commits to end ‘pay inequality’

32nd IHCA AGM, Saturday 10 October 2020, Virtual Annual General Meeting and Conference

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told this year’s IHCA AGM and annual conference that he “strongly” supports the Association’s calls for the end to pay inequality for ‘new-entrant’ consultants. The IHCA has demanded the end of consultant salary inequity imposed by the Government on appointments since 2012. Minister Donnelly said his Government recently agreed to pass enabling legislation to address a number of contract and pay issues.

“On the back of the Government’s decision, I announced we will be seeing some contracts for public health doctors, we will be introducing a new Sláintecare contract.

“I know there are differing views within the IHCA about this contract and we will continue to engage… but what it will see is full pay restoration in line with the existing type A contract and it will have additional benefits as well, which are being thought through at the moment.”

More specifically on the issue of pay inequality, the Minister said the “big outstanding question is pay restoration or pay inequality for type B and type C contracts”.

“This is something I committed to do unambiguously in opposition… and it is something that I am unambiguously and strongly committed to as Minister,” he stated.

“I believe it is one of the changes necessary to unlocking reform and to addressing [consultant] retention in the public system. It is a policy I am pursuing strongly.”

In the conference’s closing remarks, Dr Gabrielle Colleran, IHCA Vice President and Consultant Radiologist, Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) at Temple Street, said that the IHCA “welcomed” the Minister’s statement of “support for pay parity for all consultants”.

“But we as an Association have to be really clear that until the Government honour the negotiated 2008 contract and pay all of us equally we can never trust any contract while they are still reneging on their legal obligations to the negotiated contract,” Dr Colleran said.

“So there is an urgent need for a reset button for pay parity so we can trust that they will deal with us in a trustful, authentic way [in the manner] we deal with them and our patients.”

HSE CEO Mr Paul Reid, who also addressed the conference, said that he believed the IHCA “should acknowledge that we have had a net increase of 152 consultants this year across the health service”.

However, he did voice his support for pay parity for consultants and acknowledged the negative impact the present situation had on recruitment and retention of consultants.

“I’m playing a part of bringing that discussion to Government and I do see a potential resolution soon,” he said. Mr Reid also raised the issue of reforms in the context of pay.

“But I do think it needs everybody to jump together… I would also say that you, as the IHCA, have made it very clear that pay is a big issue in terms of improving care,” Mr Reid said.

“But I also would challenge that this can’t be just about pay issues; it has to be about reform, it has to be about changing work practices. And we do really need to look at having two systems of healthcare in Ireland – public and private.”

Mr Reid said while he believed there is a role for both, “it is interesting that one system has quite a massive waiting list that you have been talking about a lot this morning and in essence the private system doesn’t.”

“We really need to look at what are the issues that emerge from that, can we do it differently?”

Speaking before Minister Donnelly, IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine, Consultant Dermatologist at CHI at Crumlin, said there was a need to “rapidly escalate how we recruit consultants”.

“It takes too long to do this; it is 20 months in many cases,” according to Prof Irvine. “In response to the [HSE] Winter Plan, we pointed out where there need to be measurable timelines – measurable timelines around consultant recruitment and timelines around promises on bed capacity.

“We know there is enabling legislation that has been approved around Cabinet and we want to see that worked out quickly and get some real practical solutions.”

He said there were two aspects to pay inequality – fairness and justice and “equal pay for equal work”.

“But if you move beyond that, it is simply not a pragmatic response because you can’t recruit people if you treat them that way. Or at least you can’t recruit them in the numbers and scale and pace that you want. So it is a real false economy.”

Speaking at the opening of the conference, Mr Martin Varley, Secretary General of the IHCA, said that “the key request we have and the discussions we are having with Government and the Minister first and foremost is end the pay inequality that was introduced in 2012”.

“That will allow us fill the 500 vacant permanent posts, that will allows us bring down waiting lists,” Mr Varley said. The conference also passed a motion supporting the “urgent restoration of pay parity for all consultants appointed on or transferring to the 2008 consultant contract after 1 October 2012”. The motion called on the Association to “pursue this by whatever means necessary, as determined by the IHCA National Council”.

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