THE Government is attempting to push through plans to appoint all future hospital consultants on a much lower pay scale.
Hospital consultants are fiercely resisting the move, claiming yesterday that it was an attempt to introduce "yellowpack" specialists to Irish hospitals.
But the HSE hit back, claiming young, Irish-trained doctors would not have to emigrate if offered the chance to become a hospital consultant at lower pay than senior colleagues.
The creation of a new entry grade of hospital doctor was among the most contentious issues on the table as talks between the HSE and the consultants' organisation continued at Labour Relations Commissions (LRC) last night.
The entry grade would see a doctor, who has completed their specialist training, become a fully fledged consultant -- but their pay would be less than the €156,258 to €166,010 lowest starting salary, which all newly appointed consultants now earn.
The HSE is arguing this would improve the career ladder for doctors here who are fully trained but have to go abroad for a consultant's job.
However, the new grade has been fiercely resisted by the consultants' organisations, the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association.
Talks were described as increasingly tense as last night's deadline for completion of the negotiations loomed. The HSE said any outstanding demands would be referred to the Labour Court with binding rulings.
Doctors were also resisting demands that the year's pre-retirement leave, due to around 450 consultants who did not take all their rest days before 1997, be cut in half.
Sources indicated progress was made on changes to consultants' rosters, which would see them on site in hospitals in the evenings and weekends.
Meanwhile, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has described the approach of Government to enforcing resolution of disputes through the LRC as highly selective and inconsistent.
Commenting on the decision to insist that consultants go into talks at the LRC, the IFUT General Secretary, Mike Jennings, said that Trinity College, Dublin, which for the past five months has refused to implement a binding Labour Court decision, should also now be required to attend the LRC.
"During the past five months, Trinity has not only refused to implement a binding Labour Court recommendation, they have spurned four separate requests from the LRC to attend conciliation on four separate disputes, yet the Department of Education has not sought to require to have the college attend.
"TCD can no longer be allowed blatantly to flout binding decisions of the Labour Court. They should be required to immediately attend conciliation meetings," he added.