Consultants ballot for industrial action over 'pay disparity'
Struggling hospitals are facing even more chaos in the new year following a decision by hospital consultants and junior doctors to begin a ballot for industrial action.
The ballot by members of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) starts today and could see 3,500 hospital medics begin escalated action up to and including strike.
The ballot has been triggered by the failure of the Government to address the pay gap, which has left newly recruited consultants earning €50,000 less than colleagues hired before 2012.
It is acknowledged this has contributed to the serious crisis of recruitment and retention of hospital doctors, with a knock-on effect on patient services and waiting lists.
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A ballot result is due on December 17 and is expected to show a vote in favour of industrial action which would be gradually escalated.
It could see outpatient clinics cancelled and non-emergency surgeries curtailed.
Health Minister Simon Harris has recently indicated he may be able to bring proposals to solve the dispute to Cabinet later this month, but he will have to secure around €40m and will also have to demonstrate it will lead to reforms in areas like private practice, which could prove unpopular with consultants.
The distressing impact of the A&E crisis, graphically highlighted by the Irish Independent over the weekend, is also expected to force the Government to increase funding for the winter initiative, beyond the €26m already allocated.
Dr Matthew Sadlier, former president of the IMO and one of the consultants affected by the pay difference, said: "Doctors in Ireland are committed to providing the best care possible for patients, but we are left with no choice but to ballot for industrial action by a Government that still refuses to address the unprecedented consultant recruitment crisis.
"It is a basic principle that equal work should mean equal pay, and the fact is that consultants have been unfairly targeted by a Government that does not value patient welfare.
"This unjustifiable pay disparity has led to an unprecedented crisis in a health service with unsafe waiting times and too few doctors to meet patient demand. We are at breaking point."
Dr Anthony O'Connor, a consultant in Tallaght Hospital, who is also affected, said: "If the status quo is maintained, hospitals around the country will be forced to once again ration patient care, due to a lack of doctors. The cost of the Government's repeated failure to seriously engage on this issue is borne by the hundreds of thousands of patients currently on hospital waiting lists.
"Alarmingly, we have recently seen the second highest level of patients on trolleys ever, all this before the winter pressure really kicks in.
"We already have the lowest number of specialists per capita in the EU. Our chronic shortage of doctors, especially specialists, means patients are denied the care that they need when they need it."
The IMO's key demands are an immediate increase in the number of consultants and an immediate "end to pay inequality based solely on when they were appointed".