Irish Medical Organisation officials underlined the position yesterday before crunch talks with health service management over the stand-off which take place tomorrow.
While the possibility remains of a resolution to the long-running dispute — which relates to the repeated breaking of EU rules over how long doctors can work — the lack of progress to date means it is far more likely medics will down tools over the issue.
As a result, they have said doctors may be left with no other option than to take part in some form of industrial action to force the HSE to address the excessive shift length problem.
The results of a ballot of all IMO junior doctor members are due to be finalised next Tuesday, before the IMO’s junior doctor committee meets to decide what action to take — with Sept 17 being the earliest any strike could begin.
However, a recent poll by trade newspaper the Medical Independent suggested the vote will be a landslide, saying more than 90% of doctors would be in favour of strike action.
IMO officials said that, provided the ballot votes in favour of a strike, the exact nature of this potential industrial action will not be decided until Tuesday’s meeting.
However, while it stressed emergency medical care will not be affected, the move is likely to include some form of work stoppages and work to rule measures.
IMO assistant industrial relations director Eric Young said the potential move is needed as “it is clear this [junior doctor working hours] is not a priority issue for the HSE”.
“Doctors are in effect being treated worse than any other workers in the health services with these unacceptable working hours.
“We hope that at our meeting on Thursday, the HSE will have some realistic proposals that we can actually consider.
“Doctors deserve more respect and patients deserve a better service,” he said.
The IMO has repeatedly hit out at the HSE and Department of Health’s failure to address the “illegal” and “dangerous” working hours of junior doctors — an issue which has been on the agenda almost two decades but has hit crisis point during the recession years.
While the EU’s European Working Time Directive states that nobody should work more than 48 hours a week on average, many junior doctors are employed far in excess of that level.
This is because of staff shortages and a lack of resources across the hospital sector — an issue which is compounded by tightening budgets within the health service.
After warnings from the European Commission that Ireland faced significant fines if it failed to address the issue, Health Minister Dr James Reilly last year released a timeline for how the crisis would be resolved.
However, the IMO has said this progress has disappeared in recent months, leading to the European Commission confirming earlier this summer that it is re-investigating Ireland’s progress on the matter.