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The ballot will be called in January if the recruitment freeze is not suspended. Alamy stock photo

Junior doctors to call a ballot for industrial action in January due to HSE recruitment freeze

The recruitment freeze for junior doctors was announced on 13 October by the HSE.

JUNIOR DOCTORS IN the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) are set to call a ballot for industrial action in the new year in response to a recruitment freeze recently announced by the HSE.

In early October, the HSE introduced a recruitment freeze on managerial and administrative posts.

Around a week later, this recruitment freeze was extended to include agency staff and junior doctors, formally known as non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHD).

In a memo sent to staff at the time by the HSE’s CEO Bernard Gloster, it was outlined that the “current recruitment pause” was extended “beyond clerical administrative and management grades”.

It was also noted in the memo that “there will be no further growth of the workforce in 2024”, other than an estimated 2,000 posts for which there are “pre-existing commitments”.

In a statement today, the NCHD Committee of the IMO said that the ballot will be called in January if this recruitment freeze is not suspended. 

The issue was considered at an extraordinary National Meeting of IMO NCHDs last week, and NCHDs were said to have expressed “fear that the recruitment freeze will lead to longer working hours for NCHDs which would be both unsafe and illegal”.

‘Undermines’ HSE agreement

The IMO said a recruitment freeze will “undermine” an agreement between the IMO and the HSE to address unsafe working hours.

In June 2022, 97% of NCHDs voted in favour of industrial action, including strike action, due to unsafe working hours and unsafe rostering patterns.

In December of the same year, an agreement was negotiated by the IMO with the HSE and the Department of Health on issues with unsafe working hours and issues with getting paid.

When this agreement was struck last December, president of the IMO Dr John Cannon cautioned that industrial action will be taken if the HSE does not ensure compliance.

Speaking today, Chair of the IMO NCHD Committee Dr Rachel McNamara said that the improvements in working conditions reached in the 2022 agreement will not be possible if the recruitment freeze continues.

“The 2022 agreement was all about reducing pressure on NCHDs and making their working lives safer for them and for their patients,” said McNamara.

“That will not be possible in the context of a recruitment freeze which will prevent the HSE employing the extra NCHDs needed to tackle the huge workload facing these doctors.

“There will be a real threat to patient welfare and to the welfare of individual NCHDs as NCHDs will be forced to work longer shifts, with reduced rest periods, leading to much physical and psychological hardship.”

McNamara added that it is “particularly disingenuous for the HSE to claim that its agreement brokered with the IMO last year can continue in light of this recruitment freeze”.

The IMO also today warned that the implementation of a recruitment freeze will lead to dangerous conditions for patients care, place further pressure on NCHDs, and will result in NCHDs “leaving Ireland in even greater numbers for positions abroad where they will be supported, respected and provided with career pathways”.

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