Hospitals struggle as locums stay home over pay cut
Emergency services in Navan Hospital were among the worst hit as it struggled to remain open after locum doctors refused to turn up for work in a row over pay.
Fears for patient safety are rising as several overcrowded A&E departments across the country struggled to provide adequate medical cover yesterday.
Surgeons and staff who are on annual leave were called on to help deliver the service with 19 patients on trolleys in Navan Hospital yesterday morning.
Other hospitals have also been hit - including Letterkenny General, Portlaoise, Naas and Tralee - because of a reliance on locum doctors, who are freelancers employed by agencies.
The doctors, who are essential to maintaining services due to the shortage of full-time medics, are angry at the cut in pay which has reduced their rate per hour from €40 to €34 - generating a saving of €53m in the HSE's agency bill over four years.
"The rate remains 36pc higher than directly employed HSE doctors and is on par with our competitors in the UK," the HSE insisted.
On top of emergency departments, the locums also boycotted shifts in others areas of hospitals including anaesthesia and surgery.
Dr Peadar Gilligan, emergency consultant at Beaumont Hospital, warned last night that the crisis needed to be resolved urgently in the interests of patient safety.
"The rate of pay in the public service is not attractive for doctors. That is why there is such reliance on locums. But it will not be solved by cutting their pay," he added.
Several doctors opt to be locums either on a temporary or full-time career basis because of the good income it generates - but they do not have State pensions and are paid only for the days they work.
They are supplied to hospitals by locum agencies such as PE Global Locum Express and Global Medics, which entered into new contracts from September with the HSE. They take a percentage of the locum's pay per hour.
Dr James Gray, emergency consultant in Tallaght Hospital, said three doctors had decided not to return to its emergency department on the new pay terms.
"The hospital now has to resort to employing either locum consultants to work the registrar roster or locum senior house officer grade so that at least there are 'hands on deck'.
"The problem is that we can't recruit contract doctors across Ireland. Changing locum terms without addressing what is causing the recruitment crisis, such as poor conditions, training and pay, is a recipe for disaster," he said.
"It risks increasing roster gaps with even greater cost if locum consultants are filling some gaps. This is another example of HSE corporate incompetence. They need to entice staff to work on contract terms and not drive them away."