Ward walk-out by junior docs to hit hundreds of ops
HUNDREDS of patients risk being turned away from hospital and having operations cancelled this month as junior doctors threaten an all-out strike.
The trainee doctors are warning they will walk off wards on September 25 unless hospitals stop forcing them to work up to 100 hours a week.
If the action goes ahead and the majority of 4,900 junior doctors take to the picket line, hospitals will be in a state of gridlock, with trainees only providing emergency cover.
Many hospitals will be badly hit and forced to cancel planned surgery, outpatient clinics and tell patients to go to their GPs unless they have a serious emergency.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) served notice on the HSE yesterday and said the one-day national strike would be followed by strikes in "at least one hospital in each region of the country" the following week.
The move follows a ballot by the IMO, which resulted in a vote by 1,000 junior doctors, 97pc of of whom supported industrial action.
They want the HSE to end shifts of more than 24 hours and also give a commitment to have the 48-hour week, which they are legally entitled to, in place by the end of next year.
A HSE spokeswoman told the Irish Independent that by the end of August 2013 less than 5pc – or 166 junior doctors – were working in excess of 68 hours per week.
The number of working shifts in excess of 24 hours has decreased from 58pc of junior doctors in March 2013 to 34pc in August.
If the 2,300 trainees who are members of the IMO union take part in the action there will be huge disruption for hospitals. All other trainees will also be under pressure to join in the action.
The IMO council unanimously passed a motion to support the strike in a bid to force the HSE to tackle the "dangerously long working hours once and for all". It expressed "grave concern at the inaction of the HSE in the face of illegal and dangerously long working hours which has a detrimental effect on doctors and patients alike".
Junior doctor chairman Dr John Donnellan appealed to the HSE "to produce serious proposals to resolve these issues". He said "this has been an extremely difficult decision for doctors to make and we would not be in this position were it not for the inaction and prevarication of the Department of Health and the HSE. Even now, the Minister for Health could resolve this issue by directing his colleagues to tackle this issue once and for all".
The strike committee is to meet with the HSE to draw up contingency plans. The threat is expected to lead to talks between both sides but it is unclear if the timescale proposed by the HSE will be enough to satisfy the doctors.
The HSE said "substantial progress towards compliance with the shorter working week has been made in some sites".
"These include large hospitals like Galway University Hospital and St Vincent's University Hospital – but the most significant challenges are in small to medium-sized hospitals.
"These have low numbers of doctors on rotas in surgery, anaesthetics, paediatrics and obstetrics. In larger sites, challenges arise in complex sub-specialty areas."