Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I understand from where the Deputy is coming. I have an open mind on this but I do not believe that his suggestion is the panacea he may suggest it is. A constitutional right and a court judgment cannot build a hospital that does not exist, hire specialists who are not available or create resources that are not available. The Deputy mentioned that he has included in his terms a caveat such that provision be made within available resources. It should be borne in mind that it is only two years since we have been able to balance the books in this country. We had an IMF programme before that. It is only in the past two years that the amount of money we have got in revenue has exceeded the amount we are spending on public services and other matters. Up until two years ago, the courts would presumably have said the resources were not available, and that would have been of no benefit to anyone.
I agree with the Deputy on something, namely, that the two-tier system within our public hospitals is wrong. The Cabinet approved a proposal on Tuesday that the Ministers for Health and Finance will outline later today. It is to offer a new contract to hospital consultants, including new consultants who want to become consultants in our system or existing consultants who wish to move to the contract. The new contract will provide a salary scale to hospital consultants of between €180,000 to €222,000 now, rising to €250,000 per year in 2020, on the proviso that the consultants taking up the contract commit to work in our public hospitals only and dedicate themselves to our public health service. This is a major change. Linked to that is a Government commitment to increase the number of consultants by a net 1,000 over the next ten years. We will press ahead with this. This is Sláintecare happening. We have done a good deal with the general practitioners, of which the Deputies are aware. Progress is being made in that regard. We are now willing to make a deal with consultants and offer them €250,000 per year provided they commit to our public hospitals and public health service alone.