Sunday 24 September 2017

HSE formally withdraws case over consultants pay

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Aodhan O'Faolain

The HSE's appeal against compensation awards for two consultants over the failure by the State to pay them agreed levels of salary eight years ago was formally withdrawn at the High Court on Thursday.

Lawyers for the sides appeared before High Court Deputy Master Angela Denning to confirm the formal withdrawal of appeals in relation to both consultants. No details of the basis for the withdrawals were disclosed.

The appeals were due to open on Thursday but the decision to withdraw them emerged on Wednesday night.

The cases involving the two consultants were regarded as test cases with implications for hundreds of senior doctors across the country.

The appeals were initiated after the Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled in favour of two consultants, anaesthetist Thomas Hogan and endocrinologist John McDermott, who argued the HSE had breached their 2008 employment contracts.

The tribunal found the non-payment of portions of the doctors’ salaries amounted to an unlawful deduction under the Payment of Wages Act.

The tribunal awarded Dr Hogan, a former consultant anaesthetist at a number of Dublin hospitals, just under €100,000. Dr McDermott, who worked as a consultant endocrinologist at Blanchardstown hospital, was awarded €14,000.

The HSE appealed these rulings to the High Court while a cross-appeal was also brought in relation to an aspect of the decision in one of the cases.

It was reported in April the Attorney General had advised the HSE to settle both cases.

In proceedings against the HSE and Ministers for Health, Finance and Public Expenditure, an estimated 150 consultants working in the State's hospitals and public health services had claimed the HSE reneged on payments due under contracts, known as the common consultant's contract, agreed in 2008.

It was claimed the defendants actions amounts to breach of contract.

In a worst-case scenario the HSE believed about 2,000 consultants could have to be reimbursed and the ultimate gross cost could be about €700 million.

Under the 2008 contract, consultants agreed to major work-practice changes, including the restriction, and in some cases, the elimination of private practice, weekend working and extended rosters. In return, then Minister for health, Mary Harney, offered them salaries of between €170,000 and €240,000, with increases to bring the rate up to these levels to be paid on a phased basis.

The first payment was made, but not the second, following the collapse in the public finances and the State later cut consultants’ pay by 15 per cent.

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