As part of the implementation of the Hanly report and the wider health reform programme, my Department and health service employers have had preliminary discussions with the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, and the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, in relation to arrangement for the negotiation of a new consultants' contract.
The management team met with the IMO and IHCA in December 2003 to discuss the selection of an independent chairman, the setting of an agenda, and the agreement of a timeframe for forthcoming substantive negotiations. It was intended that negotiations would get under way in February 2004. However, notification has been received from the IHCA that, due to my decision to proceed with the introduction of the new clinical indemnity scheme, it is not in a position to send a delegation to negotiations on a new contract. I regret this decision and I take this opportunity to invite the IHCA to proceed with these important negotiations.
As the Deputy will be aware, the report of the national task force on medical staffing, Hanly report, recommends that the re-configuration of our acute hospital services and compliance with the terms of the European working time directive, EWTD, will require changes in consultant work practices and the associated creation of a large number of additional consultant posts. This will increase the availability of senior clinical decision-makers in line with the reduction of the working hours of non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, to 48 hours a week by 2009. Delays encountered in the negotiation of the consultants' contract may have some affect on the pace of progress on the implementation of the European working time directive. I am pressing, therefore, for negotiations on a new consultants' contract to commence as soon as possible. However, implementation of other task force recommendations can and must proceed alongside contractual negotiations. These include a study of the structure and organisation of acute hospital services nationally, national discussions on measures to reduce NCHD hours in the context of the task force's recommendations, actions throughout the country to meet the requirements of the EWTD and developing ways of speeding up the recruitment process, particularly for consultants.
The Government is committed to putting in place a consultant-provided service, harnessing the contribution of all our hospitals; and providing a wider range of appropriate services and procedures in local hospitals.