Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Questions (655, 659, 660, 662)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

655. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health when he was informed about difficulties with recruiting consultants in particular posts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5258/14]

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Billy Kelleher

Question:

659. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if latitude and current interpretations of the movements of well-established consultants are impacting on the filling of the consultant posts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5262/14]

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Billy Kelleher

Question:

660. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if consultant's salary rates have fallen under the Haddington Road Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5263/14]

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Billy Kelleher

Question:

662. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if he, his Department or the Health Service Executive intend to publish the consultants report on medical recruitment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5265/14]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 655, 659, 660 and 662 together.

There were 2,555 consultants (WTE's) employed at the end of December 2013, an additional 143 consultants compared with the end of December 2010 and 42 more than at the end of 2012. Notwithstanding these increases it has become evident in recent months that there are, typically less applicants for consultants posts that are vacant and that it is becoming more difficult to recruit successfully when posts are advertised. The Interim Report of the MacCraith Group, submitted to me in early December 2013, observed strong concerns raised by stakeholders in relation to the negative impact on recruitment associated with the 30% reduction in consultant salary for new entrants. The Interim Report is available on my Department's website. The consultants report referred to by the Deputy was a submission to the MacCraith Group by the HSE at the end of November concerning the emerging trend in vacancies and the ability to recruit successfully.

It is appreciated that the 30% reduction decided in September 2012 for future ‘new entrant’ appointments represented a substantial reduction in the rate of pay for consultants. However, it was a necessary measure, given the challenging economic circumstances. If the health services are to continue to provide consultant-level opportunities for doctors this can only happen on the basis of a lower-cost model. The HSE advised my Department last week that 104 posts had been advertised at the reduced rates and that 36 posts had been filled under these rates, with other posts at various stages of the recruitment process. It had not been possible to recruit candidates for 15 posts.

Under the Haddington Road agreement the pay of most consultants was cut in accordance with the provisions applying to all staff earning over €65,000. The only exceptions are those recruited at the 30% reduced salary level. The Agreement specified that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would have regard the 30% reduction in salary applied to new entrant consultants from October 2012, and the substantial inequity that would thereby arise were these consultants subject to the Haddington Road reductions in remuneration. Following enactment of the Financial Emergency in the Public Interest Act 2013, such consultants were exempted from the July 2013 reductions.

It should also be noted that there are some specialties in which there is an international shortage of consultants and which have traditionally been difficult to fill, regardless of the salary scale. There are also some hospitals to which it has been difficult to attract applicants – in particular smaller hospitals that have onerous rosters due to the limited number of consultants. The establishment of the Hospital Groups will assist in addressing this difficulty.

I have already stated that consultants who move posts and consultants coming from abroad should have their experience and specialist training recognised. While the number of consultants who move posts is relatively small, I believe flexibility is required, particularly in the context of the establishment of the Hospital Groups. On 23rd January the HSE submitted initial views to my Department in relation to recognising such experience and training following on from the meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health held on 16th January.