Consultants: "Gimme, gimme, gimme ... more, more, more"


The greedy consultants are taking advantage of the current crisis in the health system to help line their own pockets. They're not going on strike in solidarity with the nurses' justified industrial action. Instead, they've recognised the opportunity to make the health service unworkable and so increase the pressure on the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health to make their new contracts even sweeter and grab some more cash in the process. They're delaying the much needed reforms in the health service and the increases in consultant numbers, that would benefit all of Irish society, for their own selfish reasons.Hospital Consultants are paid huge amounts of money as it stands. They earn between €143,738 and €186,922 every year - 6 times the average industrial wage and 12 times the minimum wage! Now, the government want to increase the number of consultants, a necessary step in reforming our third-world health system. To soften this terrible blow to the consultants, they're being offered a new salary of up to €240,000 in a new contract - an enormous salary for a mere 31 hours a week of public hospital work. This could add €1 billion to the expenditure in the health system at the same time as the Labour Court threw out the nurses' pay claim because it would add a similar amount to the health budget. It's one law for the rich consultants and another for the hard-working nurses. This is not to mention the potential bonuses and pension entitlements the consultants would get. Opting for the new contract could see some existing consultants increase their pensions by €30,000 a year. But that isn't enough for the greedy consultants. Former IHCA president Dr Josh Keaveney described the salary on offer as "Mickey Mouse" money! It really says it all.

Already, they've spent 4 years delaying these reforms, using every conceivable obstacle to hinder the introduction of a vital reform within the system. One minute it is the issue of clinical insurance that holds everything up. The next, the problem is supposed interference in the doctor/patient relationship. For the past few months the consultants have been telling us that their main objection to the proposed new contract is that it contains what has been dubbed a gagging clause, curbing their right to speak on behalf of patients. All of this time, patients' time, being wasted in order to strengthen their position for more money and a sweeter contract.

The problem is that consultants have too much power in the health system. They have been preventing moves towards a more equitable and accessible system for ordinary people since the creation of the state. One move towards increased access is an increased number of consultants. It has been acknowledged since the Hanly report of the need to double the number of consultants, from 2,000 to 4,000. However, the consultants are refusing to cooperate with the hiring of a measly 68 new consultants! An important change towards creating a more equitable health system is forcing consultants to give up their money-making private patients and to treat public patients only. This is an option in the new contract which was once part of the consultant contract but was done away with by the Fianna Fail's corrupt Charlie Haughey in DATE.

At the end of the day, consultants are holding the country to ransom - it's bad enough when elected politicians do it to keep their local constituents happy (and so keep themselves in their equally well-paid jobs) but it's worse again when it's an unelected and unaccountable cartel.

All of this rightful criticism of the consultants is not to hail the Minister for Health, Mary Harney as a champion of equitable and accessible healthcare for all. She certainly is not. Ultimately, her vision is of a health system like the United States where if you can't afford expensive medical insurance you don't get treated. If you're not rich, fuck off. Now, her main aim is to break the powerful lobby that is the hospital consultants. Like Margaret Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s when she broke the Miners' Strike, Mary Harney wants to defeat this group so that she can then impose contracts on any other group in the health system - Nurses, GPs, etc. If she can win out against the consultants she'll make life miserable for the nurses.

The actions of the consultant fat cats are disgraceful. They get rich at the expense of the most vulnerable in society. But they're not alone in screwing over public patients. The entire system is rotten to the core due to decades of politicians caving into the consultants and pushing an agenda of privatisation and two-tier apartheid health care. We can't trust any of them.

As anarchists we argue for a health system that is equal and accessible to all and free at the point of contact. Resources should be targeted at primary care in the community with an emphasis on disease prevention and education. Private hospitals and overpaid consultants have no place in this system. There's no point waiting for elected politicians to change the system. They've spent decades going in the opposite direction as they wine and dine with their consultant friends who fund their political parties. We need to organise and demand real change in solidarity with the nurses and other underpaid and overworked health workers.