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IMO warns it will take ‘all necessary action’ to protect NCHD rights

By Reporter - 19th Oct 2023

The IMO has warned that it will take “all necessary action” to protect the rights of NCHDs and their patients after the HSE last week announced plans to impose a recruitment freeze on NCHDs.

The union has met with the HSE and “clearly outlined” the negative effects of such a policy. It has informed the Executive that such a move “would be a breach of NCHD contractual rights”.

The IMO said that the implementation of a recruitment freeze would lead to:

  • Dangerous conditions for patient care and delivery of health services.
  • Further pressure on NCHDs in terms of working hours and on-call commitments.
  • Uncertainty around cover for maternity leave, sick leave, educational leave, and annual leave.
  • NCHDs leaving Ireland in even greater numbers for positions abroad where they will be supported, respected and provided with career pathways.

The IMO called on the HSE to immediately lift the recruitment freeze for NCHDs.

Speaking today, Dr Rachel McNamara, Chair of the IMO NCHD committee, said: “At our meeting we advised the HSE of the chaos a recruitment freeze would cause for the health services. We also strongly rejected the position of the HSE that the NCHD agreement reached in 2022 could now be implemented in the context of a recruitment freeze.  

 “When the IMO brokered an agreement with the HSE last year, to avoid strike action by NCHDs over illegal and unsafe working hours, the HSE acknowledged that in order to achieve compliance with its obligations under the Organisation of Working Time Act, an additional 800 posts were required for targeted intervention on working hours. No targeted recruitment took place in 2023 and the additional NCHD posts that were hired were to keep services going.

 “Now, it is planning a recruitment freeze even though there are still far too few doctors in the system to meet safe staffing levels and provide for legal working hours, with significant gaps in rotas around the country forcing NCHDs to work additional hours.

 “NCHDs are suffering unprecedented levels of work-related stress and burnout and they are utterly dejected by this news, which indicates that the health system does not in any way value their enormous contribution and breaches contracts at will.”

She added that NCHDs faced difficulties in securing locum cover for absences (long- and short-term) so the burden to provide cover falls on other NCHD team members.

 “Moreover, there are significant shortages in the number of approved training posts to meet the recommendations to service the needs of the population and precarious career pathways for non-training scheme doctors who are filling the ever-growing gaps in the system.”

 The IMO awaits a response from the HSE in terms of rescinding the freeze and will then be calling a national NCHD meeting to determine what action is required in light of the response.

“Time and time again the HSE have put NCHDs at risk with illegal working hours and we will not tolerate a further agreement being breached. We will take whatever action is required to protect NCHDs and patients,” Dr McNamara said.

In 2022 the IMO launched the ‘#StandingUp4NCHDs’ campaign, the aim of which was to improve the working lives of NCHDs and in particular address the illegal and unsafe working hours endured by NCHDs.

Following a ballot of NCHDs where 97 per cent voted to take industrial action, the IMO negotiated an agreement with healthcare management in December 2022 to ensure that NCHDs could not work more than 48 hours per week on average over a three-month reference period; NCHDs could not work more than ten consecutive days without adequate rest or provision for compensatory rest or additional pay; NCHDs could not work two weekends in a row; as well as elimination of 24-hour shifts and guaranteed leave for study/exams and relocation.

According to the agreement, employers will be penalised for non-compliance with working time law.

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