QUESTION NO: 180
DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Health (Dr. James Reilly)
by Deputy Bernard J. Durkan
for WRITTEN ANSWER on 25/06/2014
* To ask the Minister for Health the extent to which the working hours for junior hospital doctors is being brought into line with EU requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Bernard J. Durkan T.D.
The provisions of the European Working Time Directive encompass a number of measures to protect workers’ welfare and safety, including a maximum 48 hour working week – averaged over a reference period, the granting of breaks, minimum daily and weekly rest periods and the granting of compensatory rest where the working day exceeds 13 hours.
The HSE is focused on advancing implementation of the Directive and progress has been made in respect of NCHDs. Data from the HSE shows that average working hours for NCHDs in 2009 was 60 hours a week, 54 hours per week in 2012 and just over 51 hours at the end of 2013. Intensive negotiations conducted at the Labour Relations Commission in September and October 2013 resulted in agreement on a joint approach, involving hospital management, the IMO and NCHDs to achieve EWTD compliance, with an immediate focus on eliminating shifts in excess of 24 hours. Data for March 2014 shows 93% compliance with this target, and 99.7% compliance in relation to elimination of working weeks in excess of 68 hours.
NCHD recruitment and retention is required in order to facilitate the achievement of EWTD compliance. Achievement of full compliance will also require reorganisation of the delivery of certain services within Hospital Groups. The number of NCHDs in the public health system has increased by over 200 in recent years and now exceeds 4,900. However, there are international shortages of NCHDs in certain categories and specialties. There are also some hospitals to which it has been difficult to attract NCHDS, for a range of reasons including training opportunities and rural location.
The next NCHD rotation occurs on 14th July. The HSE has advised that it is too early to be definitive on the level of vacancies that will arise, noting however that the number of posts that have not been filled is similar to previous years. Where posts are vacant and suitable candidates cannot be sourced, locums are retained or alternative arrangements are made to ensure the continued delivery of the service. However, the intention is to move to a position where reliance on agency to fill posts is minimised and permanent staff are appointed.
Last July I set up a group under the chairmanship of Professor Brian MacCraith to carry out a strategic review of medical training and career structures. Under its terms of reference the Group will make recommendations aimed at improving the retention of medical graduates in the public health system and planning for future service needs. It provided an Interim Report in December 2013 focusing on training. In April 2014 the Group submitted its second report to me and this dealt with medical career structures and pathways following completion of specialist training. The final report of the Group will deal with a number of issues including workforce planning and this is due to be submitted to me by the end of this month.