'Sort doctors' €700m pay row or hospitals will struggle for staff'
Hospitals will continue to struggle to recruit badly-needed doctors if the action taken by consultants to recoup an estimated €700m in salary back money is not resolved, it was claimed yesterday.
Dr Peader Gilligan, an emergency consultant in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, defended the doctors' legal action which the HSE is claiming could potentially cost the cash-strapped health service more than twice the original estimate of €300m.
Dr Gilligan, who is head of the consultants' group in the doctors' union, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) stood by the action, saying there are 250 jobs for specialists vacant. It will be "impossible to fill many of them if the HSE continues to breach contracts."
He said: "Unless we get the doctors' contract right we are not going to attract those people. It needs to be resolved."
The row has its origins in the new 2008 contracts which a majority of consultants signed up to with promises of generous salaries for a change of work practices aimed at the benefit of public patients.
Under the 2008 agreement, doctors working at that time were due to receive pay rises - bringing their then salaries up to between €175,000 and €240,000 - in return for taking on extra hours and weekend work in the public sector.
However, a unilateral cut was imposed on the salaries of around 2,300 doctors on the orders of the then Health Minister Mary Harney due to the financial crisis.
Dr Gilligan, who as emergency consultant has no private practice, insisted that he believes the public are supportive of their case and are very aware of how hard consultants work in an under-resourced system.
"No consultant ever received the top point of the salary scale," he added.
Asked how the doctors could square a potential €700m payout with calls for extra beds he said the risk is that doctors will not take up posts here to staff the beds.
Two consultants have already won their cases at the Employment Appeals Tribunal with one receiving €100,000 and the other €14,000. These rulings are now being appealed by the HSE and a hearing is due in the High Court in January.
Dr Gilligan said around 40 consultants in the IMO have lodged cases and two are likely to move forward in the coming months.
He questioned the legal fees which are being spent by the HSE to defend these cases and use of public money in this way.