Harney defends deal with consultants

Minister for Health Mary Harney has said that public patients will be “huge beneficiaries” as a result of the deal reach last week between hospital consultants and the Government.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Harney said that after five years of negotiations the deal reached last week between health bosses and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association was “a good deal for the public and a fair deal for doctors”.

She said that the changes will “fundamentally alter the health service” for the better, claiming that an extra 2,000 hospital consultants will be appointed during the next few years .

Harney rejected claims that it could take up to a decade to implement this deal, nor does she believe that it will “become unstuck”.

“A lot of time has been put into this agreement,” she said, adding that there was an acknowledgment of a need for reform.

Harney said that the agreement is yet to be formally put to member of the ICHA, who represent 75% of Ireland’s 2,000 hospital consultants, but she believes the contents will be to the liking of the vast majority of hospital consultants.

The Minister said that under the terms of the agreement, it was appropriate that consultants were offered different contracts of employment as “circumstances vary”.

The new contract is fundamentally altered from the one agreed in the 1980s.

Included in these new contracts are ones that will see doctors work in the public hospitals only, while another contract will allow consultants work in public hospitals and carry out off-site private work.

She added that there will be many more consultants hired in areas such as psychiatry, and medicine for older people.

“Instead of doctors working as 'lone rangers', they will work as part of a team, with a clinical director with responsibility for budgets,” she said.

Harney said that there will be a longer working day and structured cover at the weekends - there will be 24-hour cover and consultants will be required to be in hospitals at the weekends and bank holidays.

“This is how the best hospitals in the world operate,” she said.

The Minister said that she is confident that the vast majority of doctors will opt to sign up to one of the new contracts.

“We set out to make this contract attractive, not just to recruiting new people but to the consultant doctors who work in our hospitals,” she said.

There are currently 6,000 doctors in Irish hospitals, 2,000 consultants and 4,000 non-consultants.

“It should be the other way around - we want consultants delivering the services,” she said. “That is where you get the best outcome.”

Harney also said that she hopes that the Irish Medical Organisation, who have not agreed to sign up to the deal and represents 25% of consultants, will see that it is good for patients and addresses many of their concerns.

Harney warned however that there would be no more money on the table.

“As far as remuneration is concerned, this is the final position of the Government,” she said. “These are not small salaries - they are considerable increases.”


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