Public health doctors to strike in January

It comes after a 17-year battle for consultant status and contracts
Public health doctors to strike in January

Public health doctors are to strike for three days in January. Picture: Pexels

Public health doctors are to strike for three days in January.

The country’s 91 Specialists of Public Health Medicine (SPHMs) are taking the action as part of their 17-year battle for consultant status and contracts.

The Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) Public Health Committee has decided to serve notice of industrial action on the HSE and the Department of Health, warning if there is no resolution to the issue, the following action will commence on Thursday, January 14, followed by a two-day strike on Thursday 21 and Friday 22, January.

The committee says it will consider taking more action if matters remain unresolved.

Dr Ina Kelly, chair of the Public Health Committee of the IMO, said: “I am deeply distressed that it has come to this.

“It is time for the Government to recognise their own ethical obligations and to honour agreements.

We have had no meaningful engagement with the Department of Health in the last five months, no business plan has been discussed with us, no new contract agreed.

“We are in a worse situation today than we were a year ago.” 

The four-page contract they sign gives SPHMs – in effect – the same status as an admin secretary.

Despite this, in playing the lead role investigating and controlling notifiable infectious diseases and outbreaks, they have led Ireland’s response to Covid-19.

Consultant status and contracts were part of a pay and productivity agreement in 2019.

It was made between the IMO, the Department of Health and the HSE to avert strike action in 2019 and was due to be fully implemented by July 2020.

Much of the increased productivity aspect of the agreement was fast-tracked due to the Covid-19 crisis.

However, despite SPHMs taking on a lot of extra work ahead of schedule, they did not get the extra pay or contracts.

Public health doctors earn a set €116,000 a year, while consultants earn between €143,000 and €199,000 on a nine-point incremental scale.

Comments by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly over the weekend are said to have infuriated SPHMs.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday, he said it was “disappointing that public health doctors would threaten to walk off the pitch during a global pandemic”.

Mr Donnelly has repeatedly stressed he "fully supports the creation of consultant level roles in public health medicine" and has said the creation of these roles is "a priority" for him.

He submitted a "business case" for the new contracts to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), on November 19.

However, a key fault line between the two sides is over agreement on these new contracts.

There was supposed to be agreement before the contracts were sent to DPER, but this didn’t happen.

And discussions broke down at the start of November because of a lack of progress.

It is believed the contracts will be introduced on a phased basis, with only a small number of SPHMs getting them at first.

This will hit SPHMs' already diminished morale, and lead to an inevitable "exodus of experience" during the pandemic, believe the IMO.

The fact that a business plan has been submitted was confirmed by DPER last week.

But a spokesperson pointed out that it "will be the subject of further engagements between departments".

And given that agreement between at least the Department of Health and DPER on the contracts is also part of the wider implementation of the Government's Sláintecare plan, it could be some time before a single SPHM sees a consultant contract.

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