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‘Illegal’ working hours negatively impacting doctors and patients- IMO

By Reporter - 26th Jan 2024

The IMO has expressed deep concern that the HSE continues to pursue a recruitment freeze despite having “a clear understanding” of its negative impacts.

In a statement today, the union outlined: “An internal HSE document clearly and starkly lays out the negative impacts on patients, services and staff as a consequence of the recruitment freeze.

“Our hospitals and community services are facing ever increasing demands, along with the entirely predictable winter pressures, and the only response is to ask an already exhausted medical workforce to work even longer hours. This deeply flawed policy is unsafe and is inevitably leading to service pressures where patients will wait longer and NCHDs continue to emigrate in ever increasing numbers.”

Dr Rachel McNamara, Chair of the IMO’s NCHD committee, commented: “We are at a time of year where hospital presentations for viral illnesses are at an all-time high. Our hospitals are already dealing with a year-round capacity crisis, we know we do not have enough doctors in the system and this inexplicable recruitment freeze means that doctors are working even longer hours leading to exhaustion and very high levels of burnout. This is an unsustainable situation for our health services which ultimately has a major negative impact on patients.”

Dr McNamara said that this was not the cost-savings exercise that the HSE wanted people to believe. “We know that doctors are being asked to work additional hours to cover the demand of the current winter surge and also cover for colleagues who are on short- or long-term leave. The pressure to do additional hours and be available for additional on-call is immense and is simply not safe practice.

 “We do not accept that this can be justified as a cost-saving measure; when instead of taking on the required doctors, we are paying overtime rates to the doctors within the system. We want to be very clear: our objective is to reduce the unsafe and illegal working hours of doctors. That has been at the core of all discussions and agreements with the HSE. The recruitment freeze serves only to further damage our valuable workforce.”

Dr McNamara added: “There is a reason why our junior doctors (NCHDs) are emigrating; the working conditions, hours and complete disregard for their wellbeing in Ireland are the key drivers that make it easy for health systems in Australia and Canada to recruit them.

 “The Government needs to seriously invest in capacity and medical workforce to finally address the problems in our health service – without this investment we will never have the health service that meets the need of patients.”

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