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Work/life balance and childcare provision raised by NCHDs

By Catherine Reilly - 22nd Apr 2024

childcare provision
NCHD committee Chair Dr Rachel McNamara

Many doctors fear that seeking flexible working arrangements and greater work/life balance will impact on their career progression, the national NCHD meeting at the IMO AGM heard.

The meeting passed an amended motion calling for the HSE to engage with the IMO on “improving and enhancing flexible arrangements” for NCHDs so that a greater work/life and family life balance can be achieved, without a negative impact on career progression.

Introducing the motion on behalf of the NCHD committee, SpR in geriatrics Dr Brian Murphy said people are leaving the medical profession or changing specialties in order to spend time
with families and achieve a greater work/life balance.

Surgical registrar Dr Muhammad Khan suggested that doctors can feel reluctant to raise work/life balance issues “because it may affect their careers, especially from seniors”. He put forward an amendment to the motion stating that NCHDs should be able to access such arrangements without detriment to their career.

Dr Khan said that even where someone is accessing their statutory entitlements, such as maternity or paternity leave, there may be “backtalk going on in the departments – ‘oh, we are short now’…”.

A separate motion relating to work/life balance also called on the HSE to publicly confirm that it will cease requiring NCHDs to routinely work over the legal limit of 48 hours per week and that the terms of the 2022 NCHD agreement will be upheld across all HSE and HSE-funded healthcare sites.

The meeting also discussed the HSE’s failure to support the provision of on-site childcare or to resource off-site childcare to support their staff, including NCHDs, who are contractually obliged to work long and unsocial hours when childcare provision is not available. The situation for NCHDs who geographically rotate multiple times in their training programme is even more difficult.

The NCHDs called on the HSE and the Department of Health to develop a comprehensive, funded plan to ensure NCHDs have access to childcare.

NCHD Chair Dr Rachel McNamara clarified that the committee was not suggesting that the HSE should pay for NCHDs’ childcare, but rather it should ensure NCHDs have access to such provision.

Earlier at the meeting, Dr McNamara expressed dissatisfaction that this issue was not covered in the recommendations of the NCHD taskforce report.

Dr McNamara also noted that the New Children’s Hospital has no childcare facility planned for staff, which she described as a “huge failing”.

Meanwhile, the meeting heard it remains common for NCHDs to be pressurised to fill rota gaps on their rostered days off.

Dr McNamara presented findings of an IMO survey of NCHDs on workplace issues. Some 77 per cent reported being pressurised to work additional shifts in lieu of a locum being found.

“This is something we have seen consistently,” Dr McNamara said. “We have seen evidence of [NCHDs] being directly messaged on their days off and very much pressurised – that is how it feels to be told, look, if you don’t come in, your co-SHO or intern colleague will be left to do more work or they will have to stay on potentially overnight.”

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