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So wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem Work without Hope. An apt title for those toiling within the health service.
At last weekend’s IMO AGM, the mood, as subjective a concept as any, seemed to have changed. As one member explained, people were beginning to use the ‘O’ word again — ‘optimism’. Last year’s fraught confrontational meeting between GPs and former Minister for Primary Care Alex White, and the festering resentment over the McNeice affair, have not been forgotten but they are slipping slowly into the realm of the past.
Reaching an agreement with the Department of Health and the HSE on GP care for the under-sixes in the run-up to the trip to Kilkenny didn’t hurt things either. The despised draft contract, which must now be ranked among one of the HSE’s more spectacular own goals, is consigned to the dustbin of history. While many GPs are understandably reluctant if not outright sceptical of this latest deal, it may indicate a first step. However, the Organisation will have its work cut out to convince them to trust the Government.
Minister Leo Varadkar, who by any standards performed admirably at his first AGM, worked hard to try and restore this trust. The simple act of visiting the craft groups and hearing their concerns marked Minister’s Varadkar’s approach as radically different from that of his predecessors. However, he had little comfort to those hoping for increases in salaries or extra resources. Restoration of pay? Not at the expense of services — not while he is in Hawkins House.
For Indian doctors, he promised action on the internship equivalence issue and even referenced his father’s experience of training in Ireland.
Despite this though, so much needs to be done. Long-standing issues that have been long ignored must be addressed. Perhaps the most serious of these is the lack of public and community health doctors, which has now reached crisis point. Preventative medicine is staggeringly altruistic but it is subtle, easy to take for granted.
Time after time the IMO’s Public and Community Health Committee discusses problems with status and staffing. And year after year, these problems remain. The sheer longevity of these issues indicates that the Department and the HSE simply do not care enough about the life-saving work of these doctors.
And that is absolute disgrace.
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