Talks next week on dispute over doctor's hours
Eithne Donnelan, Health COrrespondent
Last-minute talks have been arranged for next week in an attempt to resolve a dispute between health service employers and the Irish Medical Organisation over how junior doctors’ hours should
The hours of the doctors, who now work on average more than 70 hours a week, must be cut to 58 from Sunday week, August 1st, to comply with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD). Failure to
comply leaves the State open to hefty fines.
The Minister for Health, Mr Martin, appealed to all sides to give the talks, at the Labour Relations Commission next Tuesday, a chance. Patient care would have to be safeguarded at the expense of implementing the directive until agreement was reached, he said.
The chief executive of the Health Service Employers Agency, Mr Gerard Barry, said yesterday that if junior doctors sued the State for failing to immediately reduce their hours, the State would defend the actions on the basis that their representative organisation, the IMO, “was the greatest single impediment” to complying with the directive.
The IMO was holding things up, he said, by refusing to agree to any changes in the current system whereby junior doctors are paid overtime for hours worked outside 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
He pointed out that the overtime bill for junior doctors had “gone though the roof” and now stood at ∈ 200 million a year, with the doctors each earning an average of ∈ 50,000 a year in overtime. They wanted to protect these earnings, he claimed.
“We are in a service industry. Could you envisage any other service industry signing up to an agreement which has all of their workforce rostered between the hours of 9 to 5, and that every hour outside of that would have to be paid the overtime rate? That is the proposition the IMO is putting to us,” he said.
“If we signed our name to an agreement of that nature we would drive the overtime bill into the stratosphere. People are already questioning where the money goes. The answer is on pay,” he added.
The IMO’s director of industrial relations, Mr Fintan Hourihan, said the Department of Health had had 10 years to prepare for it and could have talked to nursing and other unions about taking over non-medical tasks done by doctors, but hadn’t done so.
He said he was surprised that Mr Barry’s “incendiary comments” were being made just days before talks were to begin.
Mr Hourihan insisted that pay issues were secondary to the concerns of the IMO about patient safety being protected when junior doctors’ hours are reduced. “It’s highly disingenuous to suggest that our opposition has no regard for clinical welfare of patients when that is our chief concern,” he said.
(The Irish Times, Friday, July 23, 2004, p. 3)
Glossary: Comply = cumprir, Hefty = pesado, Roster = lista de plantão
To comply with the European Working Time Directive demands, doctors will have to work:
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