Public health doctors have agreed to delay a decision on strike action for two months, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Public health doctors are essential in the fight against COVID-19. They deal with the management of the disease, clusters, outbreaks and contact tracing.
However, they are currently not given consultant status when they qualify. They are instead put on a specialist contract, which has poorer pay and conditions than a consultant contract.
Members of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) met on Thursday night to consider the Government's recent refusal to set out a definitive timeline for the introduction of consultant status.
The IMO noted that various independent reports have recommended this move, which the Department of Health accepted in January 2019.
The department also agreed that implementation would take place in July 2020, however little progress has been made since then.
At the meeting, these doctors decided that for ethical reasons around COVID, they would not proceed with industrial action at this. They mandated the IMO to engage with the department for two months to see if this issue can be resolved.
If progress is not made during this time, IMO members will be balloted for industrial action.
According to the chairperson of the IMO's Public Health Committee, Dr Ina Kelly, public health doctors are "frustrated and angry at the continued refusal of the Department of Health to grant consultant status, even as the same department relies on us to lead the fight against COVID-19".
"Public health medicine is critical to the ongoing management of the nation's health and we have stepped up to the plate during this crisis, taking on additional duties and additional hours even though our workforce was seriously understaffed even before COVID.
"If the Government is really serious about a consultant-led public health system we must see the same level of commitment from it. Hand clapping and thanks are not the response we need," Dr Kelly said.
According to committee member, Dr Anne Dee, IMO members have been "at the forefront of the battle against COVID 19".
"They are working unsustainable hours in hugely stressful conditions. They are exhausted and the refusal of the Department of Health to move on this issue feels like a slap in the face. The Government has taken us for granted for too long. It cannot continue to take us for granted through the coming months," she added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.