JUNIOR doctors meet today to draw up a campaign of industrial action which threatens to severely disrupt patient care.
A ballot conducted by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) resulted in a turnout of 1,000 junior doctors, 97pc of whom voted in favour of industrial action in protest at the failure to reduce their working week – which can be as long as 100 hours.
The IMO strike committee, which is obliged to give two weeks' notice of action, is expected to extend this to three weeks.
This would see hospital services hit at the end of the month – just as emergency departments try to cope with the traditional rise in patients during the autumn-winter period.
The doctors want an end to shifts of more than 24 hours and a commitment from the HSE that it will have the 48- hour week in place at the end of next year.
Health Minister James Reilly said the end of shifts over 24 hours would be possible over a period of time, but he could not put a deadline in it. "I want the HSE to engage in a meaningful way, to engage with the IMO on these unacceptably long hours. They are not safe and they need to be addressed," he said speaking at the International Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals in the National Convention centre in Dublin.
The IMO said it would meet with the HSE tomorrow to draw up contingency plans if the industrial action went ahead.
There are over 2,000 junior doctors in the IMO. Overall, there are 4,900 junior doctors working in hospitals across the country and it is unclear how many will join the picket line.
IMO industrial-relations officer Eric Young said:"There is now a strong appetite to step up the campaign to force the HSE and the Department of Health to do what everyone knows must be done – implement the European Working Time Directive." Commenting on the fact the minister was expressing sympathy with the doctors, he said: "When you read his comments in support of doctors, you'd think he was still president of the IMO. But he's the Minister for Health now and he can fix this chaotic situation." The HSE said it could not plan for unspecified action and would seek details from the union.