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Public health specialist labels breakdown in talks ‘disappointing’ as potential industrial action looms

A specialist in public health medicine has expressed disappointment at the breakdown of talks on consultant status and contracts for public health specialists.

Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI), Dr Marie Casey said: “It’s really disappointing to see that contract negotiations have stalled”.

“This is despite specialists in public health medicine committing to increased leadership responsibilities and despite their extraordinary commitment to protecting the health of people of Ireland over recent months”.

The IMO has balloted public health specialists as part of efforts to secure consultant status and contracts in line with recommendations set out in the 2018 Crowe Horwath Review.

The closing date for return of ballots of IMO public health medicine members is the 27 November, with results expected to be announced on that date.

Results of the ballot will be considered by the IMO’s public health medicine committee and, in circumstances where the ballot is in favour of industrial action, the committee will consider the nature and timing of action and advise members.

Dr Casey lamented that strike action would be likely following the ballot but still expressed hope that action could be avoided.

“Unfortunately, there are 17 years of broken promises behind us, making strike action more likely than not, although I would hope that this could be averted.”

According to an IMO spokesman, in the event of industrial action the HSE will be advised.  

No meetings are planned with Department of Health officials and no invitations have been received by the IMO from the Department following the breakdown in talks in October, the spokesman confirmed.

Given the level of dissatisfaction and growing frustration among public health specialists at the lack of progress in negotiations to date, it is expected that support for industrial action will be granted.

Public health doctors have widely condemned the lack of progress in talks, with many now believed to be exploring job offers from abroad and private companies.

It is understood that a new model for public health has been developed by the HSE and that negotiations were originally due to conclude in July. However, the Department has not  introduced the measures recommended in the Crowe Horwath report.

Public health doctors are seeking consultant status in line with their medical colleagues and improved work models for the profession, as recommended in the 2018 Department of Health commissioned Crowe Howarth report.

According to the HSE, there are 77 public health doctors permanently employed as specialists/directors in public health medicine, with a further 27 specialist registrars in public health medicine currently engaged in training.

The HSE recently launched a recruitment campaign seeking health protection nursing roles in public health. Meanwhile a campaign to hire surveillance scientists is due to launch before the end of 2020.

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