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Dr O’Connor, who has written extensively for the Medical Independent (MI), was a pivotal figure in igniting the NCHD ‘24 No More’ campaign in 2013, when he was an NCHD.
Following his presentation last weekend on the future for doctors, which charted his experiences and observations from working in Ireland, the US and UK, Dr O’Connor responded to a question from GP Dr Mark Murphy, who queried how to encourage the next generation to become involved in activism on behalf of doctors.
“The first thing we have to do is listen to them, listen to what their concerns are and listen to what they have to say. I have always felt that every generation of NCHDs in particular has a right to own its own concerns. When we were a generation of NCHDs, we often heard people say, ‘oh, well, we never got paid for overtime and you guys are complaining that you are not getting paid for all your overtime’.”
Dr O’Connor was a senior SpR at the time of the NCHD strike action in 2013 and he particularly praised interns and first-year SHOs for leading the charge. He said he heard some of his own immediate peers saying the younger NCHDs “never had it as hard as we did”.
He continued: “But in actual fact, every generation deserves to have its own concerns and the most important thing for any representative organisation to do is to listen to them, and to listen to them you have to find where they are, and they are not in the same places as people would have been in 15 or 20 years ago… people communicate in a different way, people socialise in a different way, people interact with their workplace in a different way, with shift work and things like that. I think certainly, if you look at the social media sphere, that is something the IMO has definitely become more active in in recent years, which is very welcome.”
Dr O’Connor also touched on aspects of working practice in the UK that Ireland should look to adopt. “One of the nice things about working in the UK was, you had a job planning meeting every year, where your job could be skewed a bit more [in terms of] how you spend your time, in favour of what you were at in your life and what you had reached in your career. I would whole-heartedly endorse bringing a similar system in here.”
He is also a strong believer in cohorted wards. “When I worked in the UK, all the patients were on the one ward, so at 4.30 in the evening I would pop up to my ward and say, ‘is everything alright?’ And if there was an upset relative or patient, you could sort it out. I would have a similar number of patients in Ireland that I would have had in the UK, but they are scattered across 14 or 15 different wards and I just can’t go to 14 or 15 different places every evening troubleshooting.”
While there were flaws in the UK system and less autonomy for consultants, patients were generally taken care of in a timely and effective manner.
He said quality of life was a key concern for consultants, with low morale a big problem in the Irish health service. Dr O’Connor said facilitating time for consultants to undertake research is also very important.