Junior doctors have warned they may strike over long hours and deteriorating working conditions.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has called an emergency meeting of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) across the country for Monday, April 11th, to address “flagrant contractual breaches” faced by doctors on a daily basis.
There are more than 7,500 NCHDs working in the health service providing frontline care, many of them training to become consultants or GPs. Their working conditions are governed by the European Working Time Directive, which limits the working day and working weeks of employees.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) maintains there are very high levels of compliance with the directive. However, the IMO says NCHDs continue to be required to work far in excess of legal and safe working hours, often in breach of the directive.
It says they are routinely required to work single shifts in excess of 24 hours and over 48 hours a week.
NCHDs are not being paid for all hours' work and find themselves unable to take full annual leave or study leave entitlements, according to the chair of the union's NCHD Committee, Dr John Cannon.
As a result, there are rising mental health issues among doctors and increasing emigration due to a “toxic” working environment, he says.
Doctors last took strike action on the issue in 2013.
Dr Cannon said the NCHD Committee would consider various steps to have the situation addressed including the possibility of industrial action.
“No doctor ever wants to go take industrial action let alone go on strike so the fact that this is even part of the conversation shows how unsustainable the present situation is,” he said.
“The NCHD cohort is critical to the successful operation of the health services and is the lifeblood of the next generation of consultants and GPs. But the HSE and the Government continue to take this group for granted and force them to work illegal hours, often without correct pay and with little regard to their physical or mental health.
"There is a reason why doctors leave Ireland, and we hope that Government and the HSE will pay attention and do something to address the systemic problems in our healthcare system. However, we will be recommending to our members that if we do not get reasonable and serious engagement there may be no alternative but to consider industrial action because allowing the current situation to persist is just not acceptable. It is bad for doctors and bad for patients."