Consultants in last-ditch contract talks with HSE

Health chiefs were tonight locked in last-ditch talks to strike a deal on new consultants’ contracts and avoid another bitter row with medics.

While the Health Service Executive remained optimistic a deal was within reach, doctors representatives warned several crucial areas had yet to be resolved.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association joined the Irish Medical Organisation in insisting much progress was needed for an eleventh-hour deal.

“We are going into this more in hope than in expectation, but we are prepared to stick with this until we get a satisfactory agreement,” an IHCA spokesman said.

As the talks began in central Dublin, the HSE maintained an optimistic approach with officials privately insisting they were confident an agreement could be reached.

In an effort to demonstrate desire to resolve the four-year-old impasse, management were led into negotiations by secretary general of the Department of Health Michael Scanlan and HSE chief executive Professor Brendan Drumm.

But it is understood progress was extremely slow despite several hours of hard bargaining.

The Irish Medical Organisation said it was maintaining an open mind but cautioned against being too hopeful.

“Until there is agreement reached in full, nothing is agreed,” a spokeswoman said.

It is understood negotiations are focussing on pay, private practice rights, hours, disciplinary procedures, new clinical directors and a new body to regulate consultant appointments.

The IHCA said pay was not the most contentious issue. It warned that doctors were concerned about proposals on extended working hours, opposed 24/7 availability, had issues on discipline and the role of the HSE in controlling consultant appointments.

All sides insisted the talks will end tonight or in the early hours of the morning whether or not there has been a resolution.

While the HSE insisted it was make or break – the fifth deadline in the last year – the IHCA said they would remain open to further talks in the future.

Management has offered salaries of up to €235,000 for consultants and the HSE also insisted doctors could be in line to almost double their wages through lucrative private work.

It is the second long-running dispute in the HSE with the nurses unhappy over refusals to grant them pay increases.

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