Potential exodus of public health doctors due to stress and poor morale, union warns

Some specialists are considering early retirement, and others are looking to take jobs abroad.
Potential exodus of public health doctors due to stress and poor morale, union warns

Public health specialist Dr Ger McDarby is considering job offers to work (remotely) abroad.

A number of the country’s public health doctors are considering quitting their jobs, citing low morale over the stalled contract negotiations with the Government.

While some specialists in public health medicine (SPHM) are contemplating early retirement, while others are considering job offers from abroad.

The Irish Examiner has been told of least three who have received offers to work remotely from their homes in Ireland as public health specialists in the UK. In addition, a fourth has also received a job offer to work remotely with the World Health Organization.

Dr Ger McDarby, a Galway-based former palliative care physician and emergency medicine doctor, said she is considering the job offer because "they value what I do".

The country’s 91 specialists of public health medicine — who help manage the outbreak of infectious diseases — were due to start the first of three days of strike action on Thursday as part of their 18-year battle for consultant status and contracts.

But although the Irish Medical Organisation postponed the action due to the worsening Covid-19 crisis, and plan to review matters again at the end of January, an increasing number of specialists no longer believe they will get the consultant status they have previously been promised.

At present, they work on employment contracts that, in effect, give them the same status as an admin secretary.

A spokesperson for the Irish Medical Organisation said: “Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the ongoing disrespect shown to public health has made many of our members reconsider their future in a service that fails to recognise their skills.

We are aware of members who have received definitive job offers from other countries and we expect this trend to continue.”

Although Dr McDarby’s role with the Department of Public Health HSE West is investigating complex Covid-19 cases and outbreaks, a historic and ongoing lack of resources means she does not do anything else.

She also qualified to work in other areas of public health medicine, including managing health intelligence and data, and working in areas of health improvement.

“I did a secondment with the WHO for six months during my training to be a public health specialist,” she said.

“I was amazed to find my perspective as a public health physician was really valued.

It was a bit of a culture shock to feel valued and appreciated. It was very hard then to return to Ireland where there are just roadblocks put in the way of everything we do.

“We are not valued and our perspective is neither sought nor appreciated.

“Public health should have been front and centre of this country's fight against Covid, right across the country, and not just centred around a few individuals in Dublin."

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