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Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has indicated he would like to the see the scrapping of the current consultant contract system in Ireland.
During his address to IHCA members at the Association’s 2015 Annual Conference in Tullamore last weekend, the Minister said that any new system would have to result from a period of consultation. However, he said the current system, based around contracts that are exclusively public-only or private-only practice, or a combination of both, is not something he supports.
He claimed the system “is not working anymore, if it ever did”.
The Minister flagged the idea of introducing a single “simple contract, like the NHS model”. In this model, consultants would be employed on one public contract and would have the ability to do some private work in their own time.
“It is my own view that the system of Type A, B and C contracts isn’t working any more,” said the Minister.
“It creates an inequality among consultants in what’s a very unequal health service. I would prefer to move to a single contract, perhaps similar to that of consultants in the NHS, with a basic salary and a system of bonuses and excellence awards.”
Speaking to journalists after the Minister’s address, IHCA Secretary General Mr Martin Varley and IHCA President Dr Gerard Crotty said that this was the first they had heard of the proposal.
Mr Varley said that the most important thing for the Minister to do was to restore trust with consultants following the “breaking” of the 2008 contract and the resulting cut in salary for new entrants. However, Mr Varley argued that the present system of contracts (contracts A,B and C) had been developed to suit the situation in Ireland.
Elsewhere in his speech, the Minister called on consultants not to “talk down” the health service so much and to instead become advocates for it, and he listed a series of achievements in the health sector in recent years.
IHCA Vice President Dr Michael Fitzgerald thanked the Minister for his speech but noted that his “very optimistic” view of the health service may not be shared by all IHCA members.
“I do apologise if it’s too positive,” replied the Minister in the Q&A session later. However,“I think sometimes people in healthcare can be too negative,” Minister Varadkar suggested, adding that this can undermine staff morale.
This was the first speech by a sitting Minister for Health at an IHCA Annual Conference since 2012, and he told delegates that “I do not intend it to be my last”.