The Irish Hospital Consultants Association has said that a new public-only hospital consultant contract, approved by the Cabinet today, would not help to reduce waiting lists unless other critical issues are addressed.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the new consultant contract will make medical services such as operating theatres and diagnostics available for longer hours, and will allow the Government to hire more doctors and support them in their work.

It will also help the Government permanently tackle waiting lists and the trolley crisis, he said.

The salary on offer ranges from €209,915 to €252,150, along with on-call allowances of up to €38,000 a year.

The new public-only consultant contract, which was approved by the Government this morning, will be offered to all new entrants, and existing contract holders can also sign-up.

It is understood the new contract will extend the core working hours consultants will be asked to work.

It will include a 37-hour week and consultants can be rostered to work between 8am-10pm Monday to Friday and also on Saturday.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

It will be the first time consultants will be rostered on Saturdays as part of the normal working week.

Doctors will also receive financial support for ongoing medical education through a fund of €20,000.

The contract talks were brought to a conclusion by the independent chair, Tom Mallon.

The representative bodies will now consider the final proposals.

Under the new Sláintecare contract, consultants will not be allowed to treat private patients in public hospitals.

This is to ensure that patients are treated on the basis of clinical need as opposed to ability to pay.

Consultants will, however, be able to treat private patients off-site in their own time.

The Irish Medical Organisation said it would respond to the department in January while the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) expressed concern the new consultant contract will have a low take up among existing consultants.

In a statement, IHCA President Rob Landers said: "Currently, over 900,000 people are on a waiting list to see a hospital consultant. Over 900 permanent consultant posts are unfilled. For a decade, we have been calling on Government to constructively engage so as to address these stark realities.

He added: "There remain a number of critically important issues that need to be addressed to ensure any proposed contract will reduce patient waiting times and address the consultant recruitment and retention crisis.

"The Donnelly proposal must stand up against international standards in order to make Ireland's health service a place that medical and surgical specialist want to work. This is the lens through which our members will evaluate this proposal."

Mr Donnelly told his Cabinet colleagues that the contract is a critical element in the delivery of universal healthcare.

He said he had been in negotiations with consultants for a year-and-a-half in relation to the contract and that he hoped it would be approved so that it could be made available in the New Year.

On whether the contract will be enough to attract people back in, he said: "I think this is an attractive contract. I think first and foremost it has to work for patients. But secondly, it has to work for hospital consultants as well."

He said it had been compared to international rosters.

"What consultants have been saying to me from day one is we need more doctors in our system. So at the moment we have 4,100 posts sanctioned, but one in every four of those posts is either empty, or has a locum or an agency person in it. Not only do we need to fill that out those 900 posts, I believe we actually need to move from about 4,000 consultants to closer to 6,000 consultants."

Additional reporting Samantha Libreri