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Column A campaign of misinformation has turned the public against doctors

Dangerously long working hours, understaffing, and lower pay than you might think – these are the things the HSE doesn’t want you to know about how hospital doctors are treated, a junior doctor writes.

EARLY IN 2013, Dr Tony O’Connor published an article in the Medical Independent about the current deplorable state of employment conditions for Irish non-consultant doctors, and the tragic death of two of his colleagues which could not be disassociated from these conditions.

A floodgate of stories unfolded in the next weeks on Liveline, detailing the abuses piled on doctors by the HSE. A Facebook Campaign called “24 Hours is Enough” gained the membership of 5,200 non consultant doctors.

Subsequently, the HSE hit out with a very successful propaganda campaign. Misleading newspaper headlines stated that “junior doctors earn €179,000 in overtime” quickly turned the public against doctors, and indeed many of our nursing colleagues believed this propaganda too.

As contracts are due for renewal this July, and posts in Irish hospitals are being rejected by both Irish and international doctors, a crisis looms large. The media talks about nurses, guards and teachers, but the most exploited group of all have long since been forgotten. Regardless of the outcome of Haddingtion road, on August 8th 2013, for the first time in 30 years Irish doctors will ballot for industrial action.

Here are 10 things the HSE does not want you to know about how doctors are really treated:

1) Hours: We work illegal hours, often in excess of 70 hours per week, sometimes in excess of 100 hours.  Next year the European Union will fine the Irish State for the illegal hours worked by Irish doctors. We have no choice in the matter though, because we are…

2) Understaffed: even in the Celtic tiger the Irish state had less doctors per capita than most other Western countries, and since the recession and worsening conditions many posts are not filled, because…

3) We are underpaid/unpaid: the majority of non- consultant doctors in a hospital will tell you that if they average out their paid and unpaid hours, they earn less per hour than any other member of staff in the hospital. I worked out my average hourly at €9.50, though my contact may say something else, this does not matter because…

4) We are treated with vitriol by administration: “Medical Manpower”, the human resources body that deals with administration for doctors in Irish public hospitals fights on a daily basis with doctors to remove their entitlements to pay and allowances for expenses, and does nothing to fight our cause when doctors are mistreated on the wards, as they themselves are major instigators of mistreatment of doctors, but that’s ok because…

5) There is no respect for doctors: every day when you work as a doctor you will be insulted by members of staff and members of the public, and told to put up with it “because we’re being paid enough”. The public misinformation about our salaries, which are available online for all to see, and are not much greater than nursing/Garda salaries, means that every day we get a slap in the face from misinformed people, and are told to “put up and shut up”. This demoralisation is making…

6) Irish doctors leave Ireland: after the abuses of the early years, many Irish doctors leave, and many do not return. They go to countries where doctors are still treated like they are of importance to healthcare, they go to countries where employment conditions are respectful, they go to countries where their education will be protected instead of denigrated by the slap-dash demands of a sleepless, staffless HSE ghost ship, and instead…

7) Irish hospitals depend on doctors from developing countries: the HSE poaches doctors from countries such as Pakistan, Sudan and South Africa, luring them with false promises of education and riches in Ireland. Instead they come here and find themselves trapped in a dead-end job, rarely being allowed to train, and never progressing to consultant posts. Some of these doctors are talented and deserve to progress up the ranks, some are…

8) Substandard doctors: some doctors recruited in desperation to fill posts in Ireland are people who would struggle to be considered adequate in their country or origin, and they cast the immigrant doctor population in a poor light here, some do not even have…

9) Basic skills: basic skills are things that ALL doctors and nurses should be able to do: take vitals, perform CPR, do an ECG, put in an IV line, take bloods. Because of the lack of people across the board with basic skills, it falls on a small number of doctors to perform a large workload that should be performed by other doctors and nurses as well. Ultimately, this leads to…

10) Poor safety in Irish hospitals: The net result is that one newly graduated intern can be responsible overnight for the care of 150 patients in a hospital, and in case of emergency will perform diagnostics, do ECG, take bloods, cannulate a patient, order scans while trying to get a senior doctor who is responsible for 300 patients to find time to see the patient.

And finally, a registrar is a senior doctor, not a “junior” doctor. Many registrars have adequate qualifications and experience to be consultants, but there are not enough posts for them to progress.  The term “junior doctor” needs to be abolished, there are no “junior nurses” or “junior guards” or “junior teachers”. Why do people feel entitled to insult us every day with that term? We have a career ranking system, just like every other area of the public sector.

– Dr Bríd McGrath

Read: Government wants another year to reduce junior doctors’ hours
Read: Doctors’ pay must be cut in order to limit working times: Reilly
Column: Working conditions in hospitals are so bad that sometimes I get no sleep at all

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