Morale of public health doctors seriously damaged

They should be recognised as consultants - IMO
  • Deborah Condon

Public health doctors have expressed their shock at the Government's continued failure to engage properly with them during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the Public Health Committee of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the Government's indifference "is hugely damaging to the morale of public health doctors who are manning the frontline in the fight against COVID-19".

Public heath doctors were due to start strike action today (January 14) as part of their campaign seeking consultant status and increased resources. Currently, when public health doctors qualify, they are not given consultant status. Instead, they are given a specialist contract, which offers lower pay and poorer conditions than a consultant.

These doctors had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action and this was to take place on January 14, 20 and 21. However, due to the escalating crisis in relation to COVID-19 in recent weeks, the doctors chose to postpone the strike action. This decision will be reviewed at the end of January.

"It is all the more galling given that we were in talks on these issues from January 2019 to January 2020 when much progress was made. Engagement ceased a year ago and nothing has been progressed since, despite the fact that we did everything that was asked of us and more, with too few resources," commented Dr Ina Kelly, chair of the IMO's Public Health Committee.

Dr Kelly described the Government's handling of this dispute as "shocking" and said that it shows "an indifference to addressing the danger of such an understrength public health medicine service".

"We are highly committed to protecting the health of our communities and much of our work every day now is to limit the size and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals. Unfortunately our commitment is not matched by the Government, which continues to ignore the need to have a consultant-led public health medicine workforce," she commented.

She said it is "beyond time" for the Government to recognise public health specialists as consultants.

"Regrettably, we have come to the conclusion that the Government will continue to ignore public health medicine and we fear for the very future of the specialty. We have had enough of the meaningless words of thanks for our hard work. We demand commitments to the reforms that will safeguard our specialty and acknowledge our importance," Dr Kelly commented.

She added that given the inaction by the Government on this issue, "it is difficult to see how strike action can be avoided".



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