Non-consultant hospital doctors are set to go on strike tomorrow, Tuesday the 8th of October, with the aim of introducing a maximum shift of 24 hours for all NCHDs effective immediately, and also to obtain a detailed plan from the HSE on achieving full compliance with the European working time directive by the end of 2014.
In 2003, The Hanly reports were published, which outlined how working hours for NCHDs could be reduced. With little progress being made in the years that followed, this eventually culminated in the 2009 dispute. It was only after this matter was referred to the high court that the new NCHD contract was produced in 2010. Unfortunately, the failure of the contract to be implemented by the health service within two years prompted the IMO to write to the European Commission in March 2012.
On the 17th of January this year, The Irish Medical Independent published an article entitled “Going Forward, Looking back” written by Dr. Anthony O’Connor, which chronicled the effects of extended working hours on both his own health and that of his colleagues:
“Depression and suicide are a scourge of our times. I have long held the view that there is a silent epidemic of undiagnosed, untreated depression amongst our colleagues. This disadvantages patients in a very significant manner and is catastrophic for doctors and our families.”
“I remember that morning thinking it might be nice if I was involved in a medium-sized accident where I broke a leg or an arm to get me out of call for a few weeks. I texted my team to say I was ill and would be late and sat in the hospital car park for nearly an hour just feeling numb and unhealthy, listening to the bleep going off and ringing back from my mobile.”
This articled prompted the launch of the “24 Hours is Enough” campaign by NCHDs on Facebook, which in turn lead to heavy media coverage of the issue and national discussion on the working hours of doctors. Local NCHD committees in hospitals around the country met to discuss how conditions could be improved. The NCHD committee decided at a meeting on 19 June 2013 that a ballot for industrial action was necessary due to the inaction displayed on behalf of the health service, and should be held on 8 August 2013. 97% of NCHDs who voted were in favour of industrial action.
The strike was initially planned for the 25th of September. However, the Labour Relations Commission requested that the strike be postponed order to consider proposals put forward by the HSE. The IMO agreed in order to debate and discuss these proposals, with a warning that the strike would still take place at a later date if the proposals were deemed to be insufficient. Due to major differences, specifically over the implementation of sanctions on hospitals that failed to reach EWTD compliance, the strike was rescheduled for Tuesday the 8th of October.
This is an issue that not only affects current NCHDs, but also us as future healthcare professionals. To show solidarity with our future colleagues, we are asking all medical students to sign this online petition: