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‘Exhausted’ public health doctors label management proposals ‘untenable’

The Chair of the IMO public health committee Dr Ina Kelly described public health doctors as “burnt out” and “exasperated” at how they have been treated, after the group rejected a proposal by health officials to phase-in consultant posts for the specialty. The plan was discussed and roundly rebuffed by public health doctors at a recent IMO meeting, at which members agreed to hold a ballot for industrial action on 16 November. Doctors dismissed the offer to phase in consultant posts, calling it “untenable” amid concerns that it could create a twotier, dysfunctional system and result in an increase in vacancies within the specialty. Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI), Dr Kelly said the decision to ballot for action was taken because of a lack of progress in negotiations to date. She said the whole body of public health medicine was “exhausted and burnt out”. “There has been no action as far as we’re concerned. There is no goodwill left,” Dr Kelly told MI.

Dr Ina Kelly

“Everyone I talk to now has an exit strategy out of the profession if this process is unsuccessful. It’s about retaining staff in Ireland now. The mood has changed. People are exasperated at being treated so disrespectfully all of the time. “Most people have good options available to them to leave public health medicine, some are being headhunted and offered private jobs too. “It’s a privilege to work for the public good but not when you are being misused by the State. There is no relationship of respect there.” Dr Kelly added that to date no talks were scheduled between the IMO and health officials before the 16 November ballot.

Public health doctors are seeking consultant status in line with their medical colleagues and improved work models for the profession, as recommended in the 2018 Department of Health commissioned-Crowe Horwath report. According to the HSE, there are 77 public health doctors permanently employed as specialists/directors in public health medicine, with a further 27 specialist registrars in public health medicine currently engaged in training. The HSE projected in 2019 that 23 staff would retire in the next five years. A HSE spokeswoman said “there are currently three permanent specialist in public health medicine posts vacant. These vacancies are filled in a temporary capacity by rehired retirees from the service.” “A recruitment strategy has been mobilised to recruit 173 WTE [whole-time-equivalent] permanent and 130.5 WTE temporary resources for the regional departments of public health across medical, nursing, surveillance scientist and administrative grades. An additional 13 WTE permanent positions are being recruited for national health protection services.”

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