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IMO gives ‘guarded welcome’ to NCHD taskforce report

By Reporter - 07th Feb 2024

The IMO has given a “guarded welcome” to the publication today of the final report from the NCHD taskforce.

However, it warned that while the recommendations in the report are positive, it is critical there is an implementation plan with sufficient funding to allow the recommendations to become a reality.

Speaking today, Dr Rachel McNamara, Chair of the NCHD committee of the IMO, said: “We have been experiencing ever-increasing numbers of NCHDs emigrating to systems where they are valued, supported and offered a work/life balance.

“The recommendations in this report go some way to addressing the issues faced by NCHDs today but for any of us to have real confidence we need to see major investment and implementation to make those recommendations a reality.”

She said a long-term strategy is important, but the reality facing NCHDs today cannot be ignored.

The IMO expressed disappointment that key areas are not addressed adequately in the report including:

  • Arrangements for childcare for NCHDs (who will routinely work nights and weekends when childcare is simply not available);
  • A medical workforce plan to match the aspirations of the report;
  • A realistic plan for the delivery of a best-in-class IT system to digitise the health service.

Dr McNamara said the plan is ambitious and that the IMO is prepared to work with the Department and the HSE. However, the current reality for NCHDs means building confidence and trust will be challenging when NCHDs are currently facing:

  • Illegal and unsafe working hours (77 per cent of NCHDs are routinely working in excess of the legal 48 hours a week);
  • Staffing shortages and covering for colleagues who are on sick leave or maternity leave due to the recruitment freeze;
  • Enormous expenses and disruption when rotating for training schemes every six months;
  • Consistent contractual breaches.

While this report makes detailed reference to the agreement brokered by the IMO last year, as well as aspirational rostering arrangements, the reality on the ground is “seriously challenging” with the ongoing recruitment freeze and services under constant pressure.

 This is exacerbated by the way in which NCHDs are treated, with unsatisfactory childcare provision, under-resourced allied healthcare support, and the ongoing use of paper-based records which has a major negative effect on all aspects of doctors’ work. None of these issues has been adequately addressed by this report, according to the union.

 “We need to see unprecedented reform in order to address the many issues that our NCHDs are facing,” said Dr McNamara.

She said that it was critically important that aspirational recommendations were reflected in NCHD contracts to prove the Government was serious about meaningful reform. “NCHDs are being driven out of the country every day due to sub-standard working conditions and a non-existent work/life balance. They now need to see a real commitment for change and a start would be to honour the terms of the current contract.”

Meanwhile, the Medical Council has “warmly welcomed” the publication of the report.

Dr Suzanne Crowe, President of the Medical Council, said: “Today is an important day for the future of medicine in Ireland. The recommendations from the NCHD taskforce are practical, supportive and will make a meaningful difference to the quality of life of our NCHDs.

“The recommendations in this report address many of the issues the Medical Council has highlighted over recent years in our research reports such as our Medical Workforce Intelligence reports and Your Training Counts reports. NCHDs are the backbone of the medical workforce in our hospitals. These recommendations, accepted by the Minister today, will enhance training pathways and opportunities with greater flexibility to reflect real-life demands and work/life balance.”

Mr Leo Kearns, Medical Council CEO and member of the taskforce, added: “This report and the recommendations contained address issues NCHDs have been facing for many years. It marks a significant step in improving the quality of life of doctors, which in turn will help will doctor retention, recruitment and ultimately benefit patients of Ireland.

“I’d like to acknowledge the leadership of Prof Anto O’Regan who chaired the taskforce and the dedication and commitment of the membership to address these important issues, and the Minister for his commitment to the implementation of these recommendations.

“The Medical Council welcomes the recommendation to address these pressing matters and looks forward to working with all relevant stakeholders to ensure successful implementation.”

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