Varadkar’s Christmas leave remarks border on ‘insulting’, medic says

Geriatrician says he does not know of any senior consultants rostered off in early January

Dr Mike O’Connor said hospitals ‘work full whack’ during the holiday break. Stock photograph: iStock

A clinical director at Cork University Hospital says comments by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about staff rostering at Christmas are "bordering on being disingenuous and insulting."

Dr Mike O’Connor, who is a consultant geriatrician, said he did not know of any senior consultants who are rostered off in early January. He is on call himself on December 25th and December 26th.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland that he could “absolutely and categorically say” that fewer consultants will be on leave in January than at any other time of the year.

In the Dáil on Tuesday, during a debate on plans to deal with overcrowding in hospitals, Mr Varadkar said nurses and hospital consultants should not take holidays in early January. He has also called on the HSE not to sanction additional holidays for doctors and nurses over Christmas.


The Taoiseach had attributed emergency department difficulties to staff being on holidays over the Christmas and new year period, including the first two weeks of January.

On Tuesday he was warned 100,000 people would have waited on trolleys by the end of this year and questioned about why a winter health plan had yet to be published this year instead of being agreed in the summer.

Mr Varadkar said that hospitals were effectively closed for seven of the 12 days of Christmas and New Year between December 22nd and January 3rd next.

However, Dr O’Connor said that hospitals “work full whack” during the holiday break, he said. “We’re very proud of our staff.”

Some have been rostered to work over Christmas and others have volunteered, he added.

Dr O’Connor said at Cork University Hospital they see 70,000 emergency department admissions per year, “that’s nine people every hour of the year.” There are always pressures on the service “winter has nothing to do with it.”

He acknowledged it will be “a little more tense” with the number of weekends and bank holidays coming together, but that as part of the hospital’s winter plan there will be “serious decision makers” on duty including anaesthetists and specialist surgeons.

“That doesn’t change, they will be on call or on site.”

He said it was bordering on being disingenuous and insulting “to suggest that significant tranches of the HSE roster themselves to be off” at Christmas.

“I don’t know of any consultant rostered off in early January.” When pressed, he said he thought less than 10 per cent would be on leave in early January.

Dr O’Connor said Irish hospitals deal with 1.3million attendances per year, a growth of five per cent per year. That figure includes 40,000 patients who spend more than 24 hours on a trolley.

“There is not a cogent, collective, collaborative plan to address this problem that has been going on for 15 years.

“It is bogus to categorise this as a November to January problem.”