Junior hospital doctors still working too many hours and lack adequate supports, says IMO

Survey by union found 83% routinely working hours in contravention of legislation

Junior hospital doctors are routinely working unsafe and illegal hours with three quarters saying they repeatedly feel pressured to work additional shifts, according to a survey published by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

Almost 100 per cent of those surveyed said working conditions and a lack of supports are fuelling the shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) by driving many to move abroad

Most participants working in the system said they do not feel “valued, respected or supported, and are unsatisfied with work-life balance of their role”, the union said.

NCHD members of the IMO had previously voted for industrial action over their working conditions and there have been a number of attempts to address the situation with the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, having acknowledged that improvements were needed.

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An NCHD taskforce report launched at the start of February made 44 recommendations in relation to a wide range of areas including emergency rostering, patient care, training and line management.

Mr Donnelly said it was his intention to prioritise and implement the recommendations.

The IMO’s survey, conducted in February, found 83 per cent of NCHDs were routinely working hours that were in contravention of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 77 per cent felt pressurised to work extra shifts, often at short notice, and 88 per cent said they have had to query their salary due to underpayment for overtime or other pay issues.

Speaking in advance of the union’s AGM in Killarney later this week, Dr Rachel McNamara, Chair of the IMO’s NCHD committee, said the results of the survey were “hugely disappointing but not surprising”.

“The NCHD Agreement negotiated by the IMO with the HSE and Department of Health in December 2022 has not been fully implemented and conditions for NCHDs have not meaningfully improved. The HSE recruitment freeze has exacerbated an already difficult working environment,” she said.

The NCHD taskforce report pointed to a system that does not value or respect NCHDs, she said. “Many of the issues and recommendations raised in the Taskforce Report have been highlighted by the IMO for some time. What we need to see now is a fast tracked implementation plan with associated funding. Doctors are voting with their feet, and moving to systems that value them and enable NCHDs to have a work-life balance with appropriate rest and supports.

“The current stark reality of working life for NCHDs is very grim, and we need urgent action and a shift in the culture of how we treat our NCHDs ... otherwise we will face another decade of struggling to make inroads into the ongoing crises of waiting times, overcrowding and workforce drain that persist in this country.”

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