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Time for review of SMO role in public health

By David Lynch - 22nd Apr 2024

SMO

A “review” of the role of senior medical officer (SMO) is required and would be “hugely important”, the Chair of the IMO public health committee Dr Anne Dee told the IMO AGM in Killarney.

Speaking during the national public health and community health doctors meeting, Dr Dee said that the SMO role is a vital position.

“If it is not seen as a satisfying career with opportunities, with appropriate remuneration and appropriate respect, then people aren’t going to go into it.”

Dr Dee added: “There is a lot of work to be done there.”

The committee passed a motion calling on the HSE and Department of Health to conduct a review of the SMO role “with a view to improving the terms and conditions, career pathway, and training opportunities”.

The meeting also passed a motion calling on the HSE and Department of Health “to recognise the specific challenges facing the PMO [principal medical officer] and SMO grade (in both public and community health) and to address the discrepancy in salary that has arisen between these roles and other medical roles” because of the “non-implementation” of the 2010 benchmarking award.

In response to this motion, former IMO President Dr Ina Kelly said that “it is important that we maintain our terms and conditions for retention and recruitment”.

“Every job that we do is a really valuable part of the health service,” Dr Kelly said.

“It might not all be a very visible part of the structure of the health service, but it is really important that we don’t lose parity across the system because otherwise retention and recruitment will become a huge issue.” 

There was praise at the meeting for the achievement of consultant status for public health specialists and ongoing reform process. A motion passed calling on the HSE to continue the implementation of the reform process and welcomed “the progress made to date” on the 86 consultant posts agreed.

Speaking at the meeting, Dr Dee said two posts had been delayed “and it is really important that they be advertised as soon as possible”.

“I think all the other jobs have at this point been advertised [but] not all have been filled yet,” she stated. “But there has been good progress; however, this is not a time to slow down or to be complacent. We need to make sure that all the jobs are implemented.”

She noted that all posts were meant to be filled by the end of December 2023.

“So there is a delay, but there is continuing progress being made.”

Dr Dee said the new appointments and movement in staff had meant some “posts are being made vacant and panels are emptying out” in the public health sector.

“So there is also a need to be really quick and also re-advertise posts that have been made vacant either because of retirement or because people are taking up different jobs. So that whole process is going to have to continue apace.”

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