Consultants in line for pay increases in new U-turn
Government admits 30pc cuts for new doctors resulted in shortages
THE Government has admitted the 30 per cent cut in pay for new consultant doctors was unfair and will have to be reversed.
Senior Coalition sources admitted the move by former Health Minister James Reilly made it difficult to retain and attract new doctors, forcing the Health Service Executive (HSE) to rely instead on expensive agency consultants, some of whom were paid up to €300,000 a year.
One senior Government source last night told the Sunday Independent: "Whatever the justification for the cuts the consequence has been that it has become very difficult to fill consultant posts.
"In many cases posts have been filled through agencies, which has come at a much higher cost to the Exchequer and to taxpayers."
Another source said: "There is a discrepancy in the need for staff and the desirability of the health service as a place to work and problems in attracting doctors and nurses. The consultants took 30 per cent on top of everything else, they were singled out, I'm not sure why, but it was under Reilly's time in Health. But it has had a serious deleterious effect on the State's ability to retain and attract consultants."
Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin are moving to reverse pay cuts imposed on new entrant consultant doctors, due to the difficulty in filling posts since the pay cuts were introduced in 2012.
Union leaders last night said, in the wake of the reversal of the pay cut for new doctors, fresh pay claims would be lodged with the Government for all public servants earlier than anticipated.
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) leader Liam Doran said similar cuts for new entrants to nursing also had to be immediately addressed.
He also said his members would be looking for all pay cuts taken since 2008 to be reversed.
"Of course, we will seek to have those cuts made during the period of austerity reversed and we will be joining with other unions in making that claim. But cuts to new entrant nurses have to be reversed much sooner," Mr Doran added.
The Impact union said the economy was improving sooner than expected - and pay must move in the right direction.
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The union said it expected talks to begin sometime before the middle of next year, with wage increases expected during 2016.
"Impact, and other unions, have been saying for a few months now that if the Exchequer figures continue the way they are, and we get below the 3 per cent deficit target, then it's time to talk about pay recovery in the civil service," the union said.
Mr Doran was speaking in the wake of comments by Mr Howlin, who said negotiations to reverse pay and pension cuts achieved under emergency legislation would begin next year.
Mr Howlin said that cuts made to the salaries of almost 300,000 public servants would be in line to be reversed because the financial emergency will have ended.
The controversial cuts for consultants introduced by Mr Reilly were on top of Haddington Road cuts for all public servants.
As a result of the cuts, many junior doctors emigrated to seek better pay and working conditions.
This has forced the HSE to employ consultants on highly expensive agency rates, with at least 50 doctors being paid €300,000 a year.
Both Mr Varadakar and Mr Howlin are known to be unhappy with the reliance on expensive agency doctors and are hoping that, by increasing the consultants' pay, the HSE will not be forced to rely on their services in the future.
"Any solution will have to result in reduced total payroll costs of the Exchequer and better health services for patients," a senior Government source said.
At present, the entry-level pay for consultants working exclusively in a public hospital is set at €116,000, but under proposals being discussed at the Labour Relations Commission, this would increase, over time, to a maximum of €175,000.
A spokesman for Mr Howlin said: "The focus of the current engagement is on reaching agreement on a reformed career structure for consultants and associated pay rates, which will address current retention and recruitment difficulties.
"It will also facilitate delivery of the Government policy of creating a consultant-provided health service in the context of Future Health (the health service reform strategy)."
Talks between the Government and the Irish Medical Organisation on behalf of the doctors are ongoing at the Labour Relations Commission, and the Government seems to be willing to move in the same way it did to restore pay rates for new teachers.
In October 2012, the then health minister, Dr Reilly, reduced pay for newly-appointed consultants by 30 per cent, a move medical organisations claimed led to a brain drain among doctors and left the health service unable to fill a number of key medical posts.