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IMO calls again for consultant status for public health specialists

The IMO has written to Minster for Health Simon Harris regarding the introduction of consultant status for specialists in public health medicine.

The move comes amid ongoing frustration among public health specialists about the lack of progress in delivering consultant status and other key supports for the specialty as they continue to play a vital role in the battle against Covid-19.

Along with consultant status, public health specialists are also seeking new IT infrastructure. It is understood that the purchase of a national outbreak case management system from Wales has been approved by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but that the purchase has yet to take place.

Public health specialists were due to start a reform process this year in public health tied to contract negotiations.

Specialists fear their hopes of attaining a consultant contract could yet again be dashed if it is not introduced before the formation of a new Government, and have called for urgent investment in capacity and IT as the pandemic continues.

Following the unprecedented public health emergency, the workload of public health specialists has dramatically increased.

Many specialists are working on call overnight and in some cases their working-hour week has doubled in response to the pandemic.

One specialist, who did not wish to be named, said: “We all automatically stepped up and completely changed our hours without complaint, but it’s completely outside our contract and there’s no clear direction on when or if normal hours will resume”.

The IMO has been in regular communication with Department of Health officials on these matters following publication of the Crowe Horwath Report on the Role, Training and Career Structures of Public Health Physicians in Ireland in December 2018.

At the time, the Department stated that engagement on the development of a “significantly different operational model for the delivery of public health medicine services” would commence in early 2019.

The Crowe Horwath report said “public health physicians indicated a high level of dissatisfaction with current contracts, status, and remuneration, with a clear desire to see these addressed by means of the approval of consultant status for specialists in public health medicine”.

The report also highlighted a looming staff crisis, stating: “Large cohorts of the profession are due to retire within the next 5-10 years, representing a considerable challenge to the public health system”.

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