Saturday 22 September 2018

Doctors' €72,000 pay hike but will their patients benefit?

Analysis

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Simon Harris at Government Buildings, Dublin following the settlement of the Medical Consultants case against the Government and HSE. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Simon Harris at Government Buildings, Dublin following the settlement of the Medical Consultants case against the Government and HSE. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospital consultants who are on course for a pay rise of up to €72,000 will finally get the salaries they signed up to a decade ago under a so called "new era" work contract.

But will patients ever see the benefits they were promised as part of the 2008 deal?

In a week when hospital waiting lists reached another record of 707,000, there is little optimism left as so many very sick people suffer dangerously long delays.

Under the pay settlement agreed yesterday around 2,600 consultants who signed a new contract in 2008 and were hired before September 2012 will get around €182m in back-money for increases which were withheld.

This will lead to a pay rise of around €20,000 with payments early next year and in mid-June 2020. The rest of the hike will come as the current wage agreement, reversing austerity public service cuts, is rolled out up to 2022.

It means a doctor who works full-time in public hospitals, without fee-paying patients, will see a salary rise from €180,000 to €252,000 by 2022. A consultant with private practice rights on a salary of €170,000 will earn €225,000.

Dr Peadar Gilligan said a pay gap is a disincentive
Dr Peadar Gilligan said a pay gap is a disincentive

The way it was being sold yesterday by the Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohue and doctors' organisation was the taxpayer had got a bargain and it could have been worse.

Mr Donohue estimated it was a "considerable discount of 45pc on the potential liability".

He claimed the money, which will add €62m to the consultants' pay bill from next year, will not come out of frontline services.

Peadar Gilligan, President of the Irish Medical Organisation, said doctors are mindful of the pressures on the health service and did not hold out for the higher payout.

So that group of established doctors are happy but what of the new recruits?

According to Dr Gilligan the pay gap between doctors hired before 2012 and after remains a disincentive to attracting key specialists.

Around 400 consultant jobs are not filled in hospitals, sometimes because not enough doctors want to work here.

Until this is fixed too many patients will lose out, says the doctors' union.

Now that the doctors' complaints have quietened for now it's worth patients demanding answers from the Government on why there has been a breach of contract with the public.

When the new doctors' contract was agreed in 2008 the promise was that there would be one single waiting list and end to queue-jumping in public hospitals.

That has not happened and the current public waiting lists continue to be at alarming levels with over 511,000 people queueing to see a specialist.

Ten years ago we were told the new contract would mean that most of the new consultants employed by public hospitals would work full-time with public patients, without private practice.

But they reality is they only make up 6pc of our consultants.

Although the vast majority of consultants work all their contracted hours in public hospitals and often beyond, it is indisputable that some are still spending over their allotted time in private practice.

Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday a new system to monitor consultants public and private activity is part of the deal.

But we have heard that before and there has been a lack of will to enforce any credible regime.

The HSE said hospital groups will provide the National Director Acute Operations with monthly reports to the end of August by the September 30 and monthly thereafter. That's the theory - but we await to see how it's enforced.

Irish Independent

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