At the IMO pre-AGM press conference on Wednesday 28th March 2012 questions were asked of the working hours and pay of consultants following comments made in the same week by former HSE human resources director Sean McGrath.
In response Prof. Sean Tierney, as recorded in an Irish Daily Mail article (Consultants 'deserve €300k bumper pay'), stated: "They are not being paid that for their contract, they are being paid that for being on call and coming in on call, in which case - arguably - there may not be enough people there and we need to look at the staffing issues."
He continued: " People are working 60 and 70 hours a week on an on-going basis. That's not really an ideal set of arrangements for anybody, least of all for the consultants. So I think it probably reflects staffing issues."
Dr Ronan Boland speaking with RTE Six One News on 28th March stated the following: "It has the potential to further erode morale in people that are working extremely hard, that are working in excess of their hours, and to be quite honest I would find such comments not particularly helpful."
Following the pre-AGM press conference Dr Boland also spoke with Sean O'Rourke on the News at One (RTE Radio One) on Wednesday 28th March. The below is a transcript of that interview.
Presenter (Sean O’Rourke):
The Irish Medical Organisation has rejected claims that consultants are not working their contracted hours. The IMO President Dr Ronan Boland said most consultants in fact exceed their public contracted hours. He’s on the line now. Dr Boland I suppose this something in which there might be some debate, particularly with people from the HSE saying it’s not the case in every incidence that contracted hours are fulfilled.
Ronan Boland (IMO President):
Well I’m not sure that it is a matter of debate. In fact I think the Minister himself has accepted that the vast majority of consultants fulfil in many if not most cases exceed those hours. I think the comment came…
So whose claims are you rejecting then?
Well I think the claims were made by Mr Sean McGrath who has recently left the employment of the HSE, who I think suggested that some consultants were completing their contracted hours by Wednesday, which is a claim I find strange bordering on the bizarre, and certainly any consultant I’ve spoken to, we’ve just concluded a press conference in advance of our AGM, no doctor present at the press conference was aware of any doctor who could or would fulfil their contracted hours by the middle of the week.
In fact every consultant in the country was obliged as recently as 2008 to submit and have accepted a work plan of their working hours and that’s subject to inspection and verification by the HSE on an ongoing basis.
Well he’s also quoted I think in The Irish Times yesterday of criticising the private practice arrangements for consultants in public hospitals. He believes they should be reformed to prevent senior doctors leaving to see their fee paying patients during the main working week. He says from the tax payers perspective having somebody in the system who can go off sight and earn private income within the normal working week is mad.
Well, what I would say is the consultants working arrangements were revisited at great lengths between management and the IMO as recently as 2008 and a new contract under the previous Minister, Ms Harney, was agreed. Some consultants have a whole time commitment to the public service. Some have a less than whole time commitment and all of those arrangements are subject to oversight and were agreed between the parties and they are of course open to be re- visited should the management or should Government wish to do so at any time.
But on the question of the, being free from Wednesday lunch time after, from then on, from about now in the middle of the working week, you’re firmly rejecting that are you?
I’m saying quite clearly as I’m not aware of a single consultant in the country who has a whole time contract with the State who is deemed, or deems him or herself to be free by Wednesday. Consultants work in a very structured working arrangement and they have work plans and it is in fact, I mean the HSE, it’s local hospital management who have responsibility for overseeing it and in fact it’s quite ironic to some extent as it would be Mr McGrath himself who’s made the comments who would have responsibility for ensuring that those commitments were being honoured. There is absolutely no evidence to my knowledge that such practices have happened or are happening and if they are happening the HSE is perfectly entitled and I would encourage them A) to produce the evidence and B) to deal with it because certainly I can find no evidence…
Well he’s (Sean McGrath) on his way as we know now to join the world bank in Washington but by way of parting shot he said that one thing that would help, and he’s not in favour of further salary cuts which may come as some assurance, but he does say that there should be an increase in the working week, that senior management in hospitals and consultants should work a forty three hour week. What would you say to that?
Well what I would say is that as I’ve already pointed out, the vast majority of consultants, they’re not alone fulfilling their commitments under the contract, they’re exceeding them. I’d also point out that in the context of the reforms and the cutbacks from the hospital system, it’s been verified that there’s been a thirty percent increase in productivity in the hospital system not just from doctors but from nurses and from other health care professionals working in the system. Everybody is working harder, is working smarter and as part of the arrangements of Croke Park I think that will continue, but there’s only so far that you can stretch a piece of string and most consultants are extremely busy, as I say working very hard and fulfilling the commitment. But such matters are of course subject to discussion and there are ongoing discussions in the context of public service reforms and the IMO is very much involved in those discussions.