Public health doctors’ strike deferred due to surge in Covid-19 cases

IMO says public health specialists will review the position at the end of January

Decision to defer industrial action ‘based purely on ethical considerations and our commitment to do the right thing at a time of grave crisis,’ said IMO Public Health Committee chairwoman. File photograph: Andrew Lichtenstein/EPA

Decision to defer industrial action ‘based purely on ethical considerations and our commitment to do the right thing at a time of grave crisis,’ said IMO Public Health Committee chairwoman. File photograph: Andrew Lichtenstein/EPA

 

Public health specialists have deferred a series of planned strikes which were scheduled for later this month due to the deteriorating situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

The doctors, who are represented by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said they would review the position again at the end of January.

The public health specialists were scheduled to stage three three days of strikes on January 14th, 20th and 21st in a dispute over pay and contracts.

The doctors have been campaigning for some time for public health to become a consultant-led service and for public health specialists to be awarded consultant contracts “to reflect their expertise and specialist skills”.

Public health specialists currently earn about € 113,000. Hospital consultants with an existing type-A contract - which permits them to treat only public patients - have a pay scale that ranges from €141,026 to €195,653.

The IMO’s public health committee said on Monday that given the rapid and escalating incidence of Covid 19 in Ireland and the critical role of public health specialists in controlling the virus and breaking chains of transmission, it had decided to defer the planned strike action.

Dr. Ina Kelly, Chair of the IMO Public Health Committee, said the committee’s decision to defer the planned industrial action was action was “based purely on ethical considerations and our commitment to do the right thing at a time of grave crisis”

‘The right thing’

“This Government has failed to do the right thing. Our careers are dedicated to public health and to even contemplate industrial action has been an extremely difficult decision yet this Government has forced us to do just that.”

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
965 88

“We can only hope that the Government will take this time to finally recognise the importance of a consultant led service, the need to immediately upgrade current specialists and to recruit additional consultants into the service and to ensure our Departments have permanent support staff. We are doing our best but with the inaction of Government we are fighting this pandemic with too few people who are being asked to do too much.”

Hospital consultants with a type-A contract have a pay scale of €141,026-€195,653 whereas public health specialists earn about €113,000 at present. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said before Christmas that he had submitted a business case to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for a consultant contract for public health specialists. File photograph: Alan Betson

Dr Kelly said that for all the talk from the Government on the importance of supporting public health, doctors were “more than disappointed, frustrated and angry that even now our public health departments are wholly under resourced and Government has still not even come to us with proposals to reform the system so that we can have a consultant led public health service”.

“ It is nothing short of disgraceful that we are almost a year into this pandemic and have had no meaningful engagement with Government.”

“This confirms to us that this Government neither respects nor values the work of public health doctors and it strengthens our resolve to win this battle in the coming months in order to protect the future of public health in Ireland. We went into this pandemic understaffed, under-resourced and under-valued and nothing has changed. We still have no consultant led public health teams and inadequate staffing and we are still overwhelmed on a daily basis.”

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said before Christmas that he had submitted a business case to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for a consultant contract for public health specialists “which would give them the recognition they deserved and lead to a significant increase in salaries”.

The Irish Times understands that the Department of Health proposed in its business case to the Department of Public Expenditure that about 80 consultant posts in public health medicine be established and that these positions could be advertised early next year.

It is understood that the Department of Public Expenditure sought further clarification on some issues in the business case submitted by the Department of Health.

Recruitment

Separately, Siptu has said there is little evidence of the thousands of the additional staff announced for the health service by the Government last October being recruited as of yet.

The union on Monday urged the HSE “to fast track the recruitment of thousands of additional staff as a matter of urgency in the fight against Covid-19”.

Siptu said the Government pledged an additional €4 billion for the health service in Budget 2021. It said this funding was earmarked to prioritise the development of health services in the community, deliver 2,600 additional beds and recruit up to 16,000 additional healthcare staff – over the levels in place at the start of 2020.

Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “Since the budget announcement in October, our members have seen little evidence of additional recruitment to assist the front line workforce within the health service. It is essential that roadblocks are removed for vitally needed healthcare workforce supports. Our members within the acute, community, primary, mental health and national ambulance service settings urgently need additional resources. National approval for local recruitment must be issued to ensure additional staffing levels can be secured in the shortest timeframe possible.”

Mr Figgis said the health service was under incredible pressure right now and health care workers were “extremely fearful that they will not have the numbers to meet the challenges from the next wave of this virus”.

“ The health service cannot close, health care workers have worked around the clock fighting Covid-19 every day since early 2020 and face the new year with possibly their gravest challenge yet. They are exhausted and must have the necessary resources to ensure we win this battle while we await the roll out of the vaccine in the weeks and months ahead. The Department of Health and HSE must now do all in their power to ensure health care workers have the necessary resources needed to provide life-saving care on the frontline.”

The HSE has been asked for comment on the claims made by Siptu about recruitment.

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