The main doctors’ union has warned its members will return to industrial action if the HSE fails to implement proposals designed to reduce junior doctors’ excessive working hours.
Steve Tweed, industrial relations chief at the Irish Medical Organisation said he is hopeful that the HSE will deliver on their promises given that hospitals face substantial fines if junior doctors work beyond a maximum 24-hour shift.
“There is €15m coming out of the acute hospitals’ budget overall,” said Mr Tweed. “That money is withheld and hospitals have to demonstrate compliance to get the money back.
“Once it is lost, the hospital does not get it back, which is an incentive to adhere to the agreements they [the HSE] have reached with us.”
In any event, failure to do so would mean the situation was “back to square one and industrial action”, said Mr Tweed.
In September, 3,000 doctors went on strike over their work schedules, with some doctors working in excess of 100 hours a week and continuous shifts of up to 36 hours. The new proposals mean shifts will be restricted to a maximum 24 hours by the end of the year for most junior doctors, extending to all junior doctors by January according to the agreement hammered out at the Labour Relations Commission.
More than three quarter of IMO members (76%) voted to accept the proposals.
Mr Tweed, who was speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, said they were putting a lot of trust in the HSE to do as promised after a decade of failure to deliver on pledges to reduce excessive working hours. The key change this time, he said, was that accountability had been built into the agreement, as well as sanctions.
Hospitals will face fines ranging between €225,000 and €650,000, dictated by size, for breaching the rules that limit the hours a junior doctor can work. The sanctions were key to resolving the stand-off between the IMO and the HSE which led to a one-day strike in September and the cancellation of procedures and outpatient appointments for about 7,400 people. The financial sanctions will be deducted on a monthly basis until the hospital achieves compliance.
The decision by junior doctors to accept the proposals has been welcomed by Health Minister James Reilly.
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