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Occupational medicine ‘bleeding talent’ due to lack of consultant status – RCPI trainees

By Catherine Reilly - 22nd Apr 2024

Occupational

All 13 RCPI trainees in occupational medicine have signed a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly highlighting the “unmerited and inexplicable” lack of consultant status for their specialty in the public health service – and the wider negative implications for staffing, patient safety, and quality of care.

“Our lack of consultant status is bleeding talent and excellence from our specialty,” outlined the trainees’ letter.

The recent correspondence was copied to the HSE CEO Mr Bernard Gloster, RCPI President Dr Diarmuid O’Shea, and Dean of the RCPI Faculty of Occupational Medicine Dr Sheelagh O’Brien, among others.

Doctors have declined places on the four-year higher specialist training (HST) programme due to the lack of equivalent status. Three SpRs have left in recent years, which accounted for 23 per cent of the trainees. “This is significant given the size of our scheme (an intake of two SpRs per year),” according to the trainees’ letter.

It stated that “many of us would not have trained in this specialty if we had known we would not have public [health] service consultant status” at the end of HST.

When contacted by the Medical Independent (MI), RCPI President Dr O’Shea and Faculty Dean Dr O’Brien jointly commented: “Immediate action is required to ensure fully accredited and trained occupational medicine specialists can take their place in the Irish health service as consultants alongside their colleagues in other specialties.”

The Faculty, which is accredited by the Medical Council, “meets the strict standards required to deliver postgraduate specialist training in occupational medicine and our graduates are rigorously trained to meet the challenges of consultant posts within the health service.”

The lack of consultant status “is a barrier to recruitment and retention causing delays in occupational health service provision within the health service”, noted Dr O’Shea and Dr O’Brien’s statement.

Currently, occupational health physician (OHP) posts are also subject to the HSE recruitment embargo. Four doctors are due to complete HST shortly.

One of the SpRs, Dr Abigail O’Reilly, told MI that many trainees are considering moving permanently to the UK and further abroad where they will be recognised as consultants.

“[The situation reflects] a complete lack of recognition of the work and training that we have put in, the years of service, the years of training, the years of sacrifice,” added her colleague Dr Grainne O’Sullivan.

Asked by MI about the anomaly in status of these physicians at the IMO AGM on 5 April, Minister Donnelly indicated he was prepared to look into the matter.

The IMO recently achieved an improvement in the pay scale for OHPs, but it is still far below the consultant salary. The Organisation has been seeking consultant status for the group.

A key concern voiced by the trainees is lack of professional parity with peers and equal standing in multidisciplinary teams and settings.

See news feature, RCPI occupational medicine trainees highlight ‘demoralising’ lack of recognition – Medical Independent

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