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Defence Forces finally fill psychiatrist role after nearly two-year long vacancy

Minister Paul Kehoe changed standard policy so a civilian psychiatrist could apply for the job.

TheJournal.ie previously reported that members presenting for help were being referred to emergency departments.
TheJournal.ie previously reported that members presenting for help were being referred to emergency departments.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THE DEFENCE FORCES has finally filled the role for a psychiatrist after the post was vacant for nearly two years.  

Concerns were raised last year over the lack of mental health services available to members of the Defence Forces due to a vacant position for a psychiatrist not being filled after no one actually applied for the job.

The group that represents Defence Forces personnel, PDFORRA, told TheJournal.ie that members who presented with issues were being referred to hospital emergency departments instead.

The extremely harsh environments members come into contact with were undoubtedly having an effect on the mental health and wellbeing of personnel, said the group.

Internal documents, obtained by TheJournal.ie’s investigative journalism platform Noteworthy, revealed that during a meeting between the Department of Defence staff and Defence Forces medical officers it was discussed that there was “no scope to increase the rank or salary being offered” for the post to make it more attractive. 

Waiting list

Due to the delays in hiring a psychiatrist, it is understood that about 50 Defence Forces personnel were placed on a months-long waiting list.

The issue arose with the departure of the service’s long-standing psychiatrist, who had been working on a contract basis since his official retirement in 2011.

A competition was launched in July to fill the lieutenant colonel-ranked post – which had been officially vacant for seven years - however it received no applications by the end of September.

The post carried a starting salary of €112,550 including allowances, well below equivalent civilian roles for full-time consultants in the public health system – where base salaries are more than €20,000 higher, and the pay scale goes up to nearly €188,000.

TheJournal.ie has learned that following previous unsuccessful attempts in 2018 to recruit a direct-entrant military psychiatrist and locum psychiatrist for the Defence Forces, sanction was sought from, and granted by, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to conduct a competition for a contracted civilian consultant psychiatrist. 

It is understood that Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe changed standard policy in order that a civilian, and not a member of the force, could fill the position. 

The Public Appointments Service recently conducted a competition for the job, with applications closing on 26 September. Interviews were held on 6 December 2019 and a candidate has been selected.

A clearance procedure is now underway in conjunction with other factors such as the notice period of the successful candidate. It is understood the department will endeavour to finalise the process as expeditiously as possible.  

The pay rate for the new psychiatrist is equivalent to those available in the HSE. 

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