Is hope on the horizon for public health doctors?

Paul Mulholland | 24 Jan 2019 | 0 Comment(s)

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Public health doctors were not a happy group towards the end of last year. The group were becoming increasingly frustrated at the continuing pay disparity between themselves and other specialists and their lack of consultant status. Not only that, but they were not even permitted to see the Review of Public Health Medicine, commissioned by the Department of Health and conducted by the consultancy firm Crowe, regarding the future of the specialty.

Such was the level of frustration that IMO members unanimously voted for industrial action in early December. This was due to take place on Monday 14 January. The IMO decided, however, to suspend the industrial action following the publication of the Crowe report, which was released by the Department just before Christmas.

Given the significance the report has for the future of public health, the decision is understandable. According to the Crowe report, “if these recommendations are implemented in full, we would expect that the delivery of public health services will be quite radically different in five years’ time from what exists at present.”

The report states that the Department of Health should give “serious consideration” to the awarding of consultant status to public health doctors who meet defined criteria in respect of academic qualifications and experience.

However, it states that the achievement of consultant status and enhanced remuneration should be contingent upon “significant progress” being made in the revision and enhancement of the role and function of public health physicians in line with these changes.

The IMO met with the Department of Health on Tuesday 8 January to discuss the Crowe review.

The IMO stated its position that all public health specialists should have consultant status by virtue of the fact that they have undergone higher specialist training in the same manner as their consultant colleagues. With regard to the report and potential reforms of both the structure and function of public health medicine, the IMO welcomed reform that is based on a collaborative approach and improves the specialty. However, it said no real reform can take place in the absence of addressing the consultant status issue and this point was made clear to the Department.

An implementation plan will be drawn-up over the next month to address the recommendations in the Crowe report. The IMO acknowledges that this is merely the first part of the process. The Organisation said that although it is positive that its concerns are finally being heard, the next step is for these concerns to be addressed “in a real and tangible manner”.

Yet if the recommendations are implemented, along with those regarding public health contained in the report of the Scoping Inquiry into CervicalCheck, a major leap forward will be achieved for the specialty after years of stagnation and frustration.

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