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Special practitioner programme for healthcare professionals set to be launched in the autumn

Dr Ide Delargy, Medical Director of the Practitioner Health Matters Programme, told the Medical Independent (MI) that adequate funding is in place to launch and implement the initiative. She was speaking to MI after a seminar on substance misuse and related health issues at the ICGP Annual Conference and AGM.

The independent initiative, which holds charitable status, has established a clinical advisory group and a base in Sandyford, Dublin. The new programme, which is currently seeing referrals, has replaced the former Sick Doctor Scheme.

Dr Delargy explained that funding has been provided from across the specialties and by a number of unions. “We deliberately sought funding from a range of different sources rather than being tied to any organisation.”

She said it is hoped the HSE will also financially support the initiative, noting that it is anticipated that the programme will see HSE-employed doctors, dentists and pharmacists.

Dr Delargy said that if a practitioner was not functioning well, this was also a patient safety issue. The confidential service aims to encourage practitioners to seek help earlier.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed with the Medical Council. As Dr Delargy has outlined, the programme is completely independent of the regulator. The Council would not be informed that a doctor had accessed the service, except under certain circumstances which the doctor/other practitioner would be made aware of from the outset.

The programme has also signed an MOU with the Dental Council, while it is intended that a similar arrangement will be finalised with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

As was outlined in the UK Department of Health’s 2010 report, Invisible Patients, there is evidence for higher rates of depression, anxiety and substance misuse in health professionals than in other groups of workers.

Furthermore, health professionals can often find it difficult to seek help for their health problems, “because they feel they are letting down their patients or colleagues, or for practical reasons such as workload or because they fear stigma and adverse effects on their career”.

Dr Delargy may be contacted at confidential@practitionerhealth.ie.

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