A new workplace health and wellbeing service for NCHDs launched earlier this month. The hub was developed on the basis of the interim report produced by the national taskforce on the NCHD workforce last year.
It will offer support with occupational health assessments to NCHDs in various respects. Services include work-related stress support, psychological support, and fitness for work assessments.
The resource is available to doctors who have an NCHD contract with the HSE or a section 38 service. It can be accessed by self-referral or through referral from a local occupational health service, medical manpower division, national specialty director, or relevant training body.
In a statement on the launch of the hub, senior HSE managers spoke about the importance of the development. Mr Bernard Gloster, HSE CEO, said NCHD “wellbeing is vitally important”, while Ms Anne Marie Hoey, HSE National Director of Human Resources, commented on how NCHDs “will benefit from access to a hub when they require it”.
The statement pointed out that, in addition to the hub, a number of infrastructure standards to improve working conditions of NCHDs have been implemented.
These include enhanced rest facilities, refurbishment of changing facilities, increased locker security, and ICT supports.
Again, the initiatives were based on recommendations in the interim taskforce report. The final report is due to be published.
The HSE statement, of course, does not refer to the recent recruitment embargo, which includes NCHDs.
In December, the IMO announced that NCHDs expected to call a ballot for industrial action in early 2024 in response to the embargo.
In 2022, some 97 per cent of NCHDs voted in favour of industrial action, up to and including strike action, in response to dangerous working hours and other issues. However, strike action was avoided and a deal was agreed between the IMO and healthcare management, which promised to address various matters.
According to the IMO, the agreement has now been undermined by the recruitment embargo.
It is hard not to view the embargo as a breach of trust. The agreement was intended to create a foundation for healthcare management and NCHDs to work together to improve working conditions for the group. Stopping the recruitment of NCHDs runs in contradiction to its terms.
“The 2022 agreement was all about reducing pressure on NCHDs and making their working lives safer for them and for their patients,” Chair of the IMO NCHD committee Dr Rachel McNamara said in December.
“That will not be possible in the context of a recruitment freeze, which will prevent the HSE employing the extra NCHDs needed to tackle the huge workload facing these doctors. There will be a real threat to patient welfare and to the welfare of individual NCHDs as they (NCHDs) will be forced to work longer shifts, with reduced rest periods, leading to much physical and psychological hardship.”
The new hub is only part of the answer to improving NCHD wellbeing. If healthcare management is truly serious about addressing the issue, it is essential that NCHD recruitment is allowed to proceed unimpeded.
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