THE threat of major ongoing disruption to hospitals has been averted after a breakthrough in the junior doctors' dispute over their long working hours.
The junior doctor committee of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) is to recommend acceptance of settlement proposals worked out with the Health Service Executive (HSE).
A key element of the proposed deal is the imposition of financial sanctions on hospitals which fail to comply with new rosters which limit junior doctors' shifts to no more than 24 hours.
The doctors have demanded that hospitals stop rostering
them for shifts of more than 24 hours which left them physically and mentally fatigued as well as a danger to patients.
Under the new agreement, part of the budget of any hospital which breaches the rosters will be withheld until they can prove compliance.
The IMO is now to ballot its junior doctor members on the proposal and recommend acceptance.
It means a repeat of last Tuesday week's strike by junior doctors is unlikely.
The doctors were seeking an end to the shifts of more than 24 hours and the introduction of a 48-hour week by the end of next year.
However, the HSE was refusing to impose financial sanctions on the hospitals and the doctors had proposed that they be paid not only time-and-a-quarter for hours worked more than 24 hours, but that they should receive the normal hourly rate of pay if they did not get time off in lieu.
The HSE said this was in breach of public pay policy. The new agreement was worked out during talks over the last week at the Labour Relations Commission.
Most hospitals will be able to bring in the new roster at the end of November but it will be January before others can limit the junior doctors' shifts to no more than 24 hours.
A team of junior doctors and HSE officials have visited most public hospitals in recent weeks as part of a verification process to work out how they can implement the rosters.
The greatest pressure will continue to be on hospitals outside of Dublin, which are heavily reliant on junior hospital doctors to maintain round-the-clock cover.
There are 4,900 junior doctors in the country and many are still clocking up working weeks of between 70-100 hours, putting their own health and that of patients at risk.