Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Questions (59)

John Halligan

Question:

59. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Waterford Regional Hospital is currently struggling to cope with lists of patients waiting to be seen and-or awaiting medical procedures, as the hospital is operating without a full complement of consultants; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that both the dermatology and urology departments currently have no consultants and that many other departments have limited cover; his plans to ensure the vacant positions are filled as soon as possible; if he will confirm that the reason consultants are not taking up these positions is that the remuneration packages being offered are well below the national average for identical positions within the health system and are simply not attractive to potential candidates; if he agrees that in order to attract competent professionals to take up these positions, the package offered needs to be in line with the rest of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21144/14]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

Notwithstanding the need to reduce the numbers employed across the public service in order to meet fiscal and budgetary targets, the HSE has the capacity to recruit frontline staff including consultants to ensure service delivery. However, I am aware that some hospitals are having difficulties in filling certain consultant posts. Last July I established a working group, chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith, to carry out a strategic review of medical training and career structure aimed, inter alia, at improving graduate retention in the public health system and planning for future service needs.

To date, that working group has issued two reports. The first report submitted in December focused on improving the training experience for trainees. The second report submitted to me at the end of April reviewed career structures and pathways following completion of specialist training. A key recommendation is that health service management and medical organisations should commence, as a matter of urgency, an industrial relations engagement of short duration to address the barrier caused by the variation in pay rates between new entrant consultants and their established peers that have emerged since 2012. This issue has been identified as being important in the recruitment of consultants. It is anticipated that negotiations will begin shortly under the aegis of the Labour Relations Commission and aim to conclude by July. The final report of the Group is due to be submitted by the end of June.

As the specific case raised by the Deputy is an operational matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply. Where recruitment difficulties arise agency and locum staff are typically used to ensure service provision.