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Consultant talks go past deadline
[Posted: Mon 17/09/2012 by Niall Hunter, Editor www.irishhealth.com]
Talks at the Labour Relations Commission on changing hospital consultant work practices and other contractual issues were still taking place early this morning - well past the deadline of yesterday evening set by Health Minister James Reilly.
It is understood that substantial progress had been made at the marathon talks by early this morning, but technical issues were proving a potential stumbling block to a final agreement. According to one source, there had been substantive agreement on 80% to 90% of the issues under discussion.
It is believed that progress has been made on more flexible rostering for consultants, allowing for a guaranteed consultant presence in hospitals at weekends.
Progress is also believed to have been made on management proposals to reduce the historic leave that can be accumulated by consultants for untaken rest days and on future reporting relationships between consultants and clinical directors.
However, the proposal for a new entry level grade of consultant on lower pay was still proving to be a sticking point.
An added technical obstacle has been the insistence of one of the consultant bodies, the IHCA, that as each of it members has an individual contract of employment, any agreement cannot be recommended to its overall membership, but would have to be decided on by each member on an individual basis.
The management side in the talks feel this is not acceptable and wants the IHCA to be in a position to 'deliver' its membership on any agreement reached.
The IMO, if agreement is reached, may recommend its acceptance to its members in a ballot.
Health Minister James Reilly, who faces a confidence vote when the Dail resumes this week, is under considerable pressure to deliver a deal that would see consultant working more flexibly and that would save money for the Exchequer.
The talks began on Thursday evening after the IHCA agreed to enter the discussions.
Management has proposed that consultants work an extended day from 8am to 9pm and that they would be rostered five days out of any seven, thereby ensuring a guaranteed consultant presence in hospitals at weekends.
Under the proposals, consultants rostered to work on Saturdays and Sundays in any given week would not earn overtime for weekend work.
Under the current consultant contract, agreed in 2008, consultants must work across as span of 12 hours, from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, working no more than eight hours in a day, under a 37-hour working week.
The current contract also stipulates that consultants can be asked to work for up to five hours on Saturdays and/or five hours on Sundays. The new proposals would lead to weekend work being incorporated into the normal working week.
Health managers, the IHCA and the IMO, are attending the talks.
If agreement is not reached in the current round of talks, any outstanding issues may be referred to the Labour Court for a binding decision.
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