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Public and community health ‘in crisis’, AGM hears

An aging workforce and an unattractive salary mean that staff numbers have reached unsafe levels, it was stated.

Minister Varadkar, who visited all of the craft group meetings at the AGM, was briefed on the challenges facing these doctors by Public Health Chair Dr Patrick O’Sullivan, with inadequate staffing levels a recurring theme.

“From the perspective of the difficulties we face both in community and public health, the need for adequate staffing is the main thing that we would suggest to you. We often as doctors have to do jobs that should be done by other grades,” he outlined, adding that this takes time away from their main duties.

“In public health, the way to improve the situation, as we see it, is that there has been a proposal under the Macraith Review to establish a working group. That was supposed to be established in September and to report back by June of this year. The working group still has not been established to examine the career pathway in public health.”

This group, he said, would help the specialty to adequately develop staffing and he asked the Minister to expedite its establishment.

“The staffing issue has also affected the out-of-hours service we provide, which is part of the health security of the nation,” Dr O’Sullivan warned. “But the out-of-hours service, as we repeatedly said, is unsafe and inadequately resourced.”

Public health Committee member Dr Emer Shelly told Minister Varadkar that the situation had now reached crisis point.

“We’re an ageing workforce; 50 per cent of public health specialists are 50 and over and quite a chunk of us are due to retire in quite a few short years,” she said. She explained to the Minister that she became involved with the Committee due to frustration and concern over the small number of doctors entering the specialty.

“From where I’m at and as an epidemiologist, I don’t use the word ‘crisis’ lightly, but we are in a crisis situation. And I just hope that we haven’t moved beyond that tipping point, beyond that inflexion, where it will be impossible to return to the vibrant public health community that we were back in the mid-’90s.”

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