IMO threatens ballot of junior doctors over HSE recruitment freeze

Organisation says freeze, which was announced in October, makes deal struck with the HSE a year ago to address staff shortages and working conditions inoperable

The HSE has said it will seek to meet the Irish Medical Organisation for discussions after the union said it expected to ballot junior doctors early in the new year as a result of the impact of the recruitment ban in the health service.

The IMO argues the freeze, which was announced in October, makes a deal struck with the HSE a year ago to address staff shortages and working conditions inoperable, and has claimed any suggestion it can be honoured in the circumstances would be “disingenuous”.

Both the HSE and Department of Health said on Monday that significant recruitment of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) had already been achieved between the signing of the deal and imposition of the ban.

The department said the HSE had exceeded its funded workforce targets for the year and growing numbers “cannot be allowed to continue as it is neither affordable or sustainable”. Nevertheless, it said “the IMO, HSE and Department of Health signed an agreement to address grievances raised by NCHD (and) the HSE continues to prioritise full implementation of this agreement”.


The HSE said “the potential disruption arising from industrial action involving NCHDs at any time during the year is a cause of concern and every effort will be made to resolve matters of disagreement”.

Last December’s agreement was reached after 97 per cent of NCHDs had voted in favour of industrial action. Subsequently just over 80 per cent of the doctors voted to accept it. The deal was intended to put an end to a widespread requirement to work excessively long hours and to address other issues.

In April a Government-appointed taskforce recommended the creation of a further 1,000 NCHD posts and suggested there was “a clear need” to improve the working conditions of those already in the country’s hospitals.

The union says it fears the impact of the embargo will come to a head in January when there is usually considerable movement between hospitals and regions by the doctors. If the embargo on recruitment is not dropped, it says, it expects to ballot the doctors on industrial action again in the new year.

“It is particularly disingenuous for the HSE to claim that its agreement brokered with the IMO last year can continue in light of this recruitment freeze,” said Dr Rachel McNamara, chair of the IMO NCHD Committee on Monday. “The 2022 agreement was all about reducing pressure on NCHDs and making their working lives safer for them and for their patients. That will not be possible in the context of a recruitment freeze which will prevent the HSE employing the extra NCHDs needed to tackle the huge workload facing these doctors.”

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times