Commission tells Government to speed up moves to reduce doctors’ working hours
IMO says State potentially facing massive fine
James Reilly: wants major reforms to existing working and training arrangements for non-consultant hospital doctors
The European Commission has told the Government that it has to “substantially accelerate” and “deepen its efforts” to eliminate excessive working hours for non-consultant hospital doctors.
The commission said it had intensive talks with the Irish authorities and would now be assessing the progress made in improving compliance with an EU directive which governs the amount of hours which employees can be required to work, with an emphasis on the period from January to June of this year.
The commission said it had registered an infringement, sent a letter of formal notice and a reasoned opinion to the Government in recent years regarding its failure to comply with the European working time drective in relation to the hours of non-consultant doctors in public hospitals.
The comments by the commission were set out in a letter sent last week to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) which has lodged a complaint on the issue.
Legal sources maintained yesterday that if the Government was found to be continuing to be in breach of the directive the commission could seek the imposition of fines.
The IMO said the Government was potentially facing fines of millions of euro.
It said the commission had confirmed to it that it would investigate the complaints made by the doctors’ union and that it would meet with it in the coming weeks to discuss the issues in detail.
Minister for Health James Reilly on Thursday said he wanted to see major reforms to the working and training arrangements for non-consultant hospital doctors.
He said it was a “perversity” that the best and brightest in Ireland were trained as doctors and then pushed out of the country by the way they were treated, with the health service then left to rob the third world for doctors.
He said he had asked the president of Dublin City University Brian MacCraith to bring together a group of non-consultant doctors – interns, senior house officers, registrars and specialist registrars – to ask them how the situation could be addressed.
He wanted to create a space in which non-consultant doctors could give their thoughts “without intimidation from people at the top” or “fear of consequence for them”.
‘Lack of action’
However, Steve Tweed, IMO director of industrial relations, said: “You have to be cynical when you see the lack of action by this Minister since he took office, not to mind when you realise that his words followed hot on the heels of a stinging criticism of the Government on this issue by the European Commission.”
Regardless of his comments on Thursday, the Minister “would have to be judged by his failure to date to do anything to address the issue”.