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To say the reaction to the draft Sláintecare consultant contract has not been positive is to put it mildly. Doctors on social media have been quick to let their feelings be known. The comments made by Dr Tony O’Sullivan, a General and Acute Physician based in Australia, would have resonated with many others at home and abroad. On Twitter, Dr O’Sullivan said he thought “the Sláintecare contract might be my ticket home”. However, on reading the draft document he said he was “so, so disappointed”.
There were countless other similar comments, too voluminous to recite here. The common theme was a feeling of betrayal, of being let down again by a Government and a Department who do not understand the challenges the health service and the medical profession are facing. Comparisons have been made with the 2012 pay cut for new-entrant consultants, which is a significant reason for the recruitment difficulties experienced by the health service over the last 10 years. The fear is these difficulties will become even worse unless the concerns of doctors are addressed.
Feelings are perhaps even rawer than in 2012. Then the country was beginning to emerge from economic collapse. At present, the health service is still in the middle of a pandemic that is unprecedented in recent memory. Many doctors are simply exhausted, burned out. Hope had arrived because of the vaccination programme. But the recent HSE cyberattack plunged hospitals back into crisis mode. It is into this environment that the details of an unattractive draft contract have been circulated. Disquiet has been expressed about clauses around patient advocacy, work location, and intellectual property, among other concerns.
It is easy to see why so many doctors are disillusioned. But this is not just an issue for the medical profession. As a result of Covid-19 waiting lists have been growing. The country’s waiting lists were already long by OECD standards before the pandemic. Without a substantial and successful recruitment campaign, the situation will deteriorate even further.
It is incumbent upon the Government, Department of Health, and the HSE, to engage with the IMO and the IHCA to resolve these issues. In a front-page story in our 31 May issue, the IHCA told the Medical Independent that initial engagement on the new contract seemed to be “nothing more than a box-ticking exercise on the part of Government”. The spokesperson also said officials stated “they had ‘no mandate’ to engage in discussions on the very matters that were, outwardly at least, the purpose of the meeting”.
It is hard to believe that the powers that be are unaware of the reaction to the draft contact. The question is will they listen?