Press Release

Martin Welcomes Reduced Hours for Doctors

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin TD, today (30 January 2001) was presented with a Report which recommends major changes to the hours worked by non consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs). The Report is the result of a major study carried out on the hours worked by NCHDs. It followed the EU Directive to reduce the working week to 48 hours in 9 years time, i.e. by 2010. In line with the EU Directive’s transition arrangements, the immediate task is to get to 58 hours per week in the next 3½ years – an average reduction of 17 hours per week or 23% of working time. The Report also recommends changes to existing work practices.

The Minister said that “the Report is the blueprint for reducing NCHD hours to the level required by the EU Directive”. He added that “the thrust of the Report will mean the employment of more hospital consultants and this in turn will lead to a consultant provided hospital service as against the present consultant led service. The result will be improved patient care and greater access to hospital consultants in the public hospital system”.

In addition, the Report, which was presented to the Minister by a Joint Steering Group comprising of representatives of doctors and health service employers, recommends more flexible working arrangements for doctors, more family friendly policies and major changes to the way doctors are trained. The Report also recommends the development of an employment and training contract for NCHDs. It sets out the service requirements and gives protected time for training. Doctors in turn will be required to agree to greater flexibility in relation to attendance patterns.

One of the key recommendations of the Report is the establishment of a National Task Force. This Task Force would be charged with the planning, implementation and monitoring of the requirements necessary to ensure that the recommendations of the Report and the EU Directive are complied with.

The Minister said “I welcome this Report as a major step towards reducing the hours worked by NCHDs” and added that “it is another milestone in a series of initiatives aimed at improving the pay, conditions and career opportunities of NCHDs. It follows the£90 million package concluded with NCHDs last year which provided substantial improvements in overtime and training grants and the recently agreed Report of the Forum on Medical Manpower”.

“I will shortly be bringing the Report and the Report of the Forum on Medical Manpower to Government. It should be recognised that these Reports will present very significant challenges in regard to their implementation. The Government will consider the Reports in detail with a view to seeing how the recommendations can best be addressed”.

“Patients’ needs are our first priority and the Government is fully committed to providing a first class public health service for the people of Ireland. These reports propose major strategic reform to the medical staffing of public hospitals. They offer greater access for public patients to senior clinical decision-making, which in turn will lead to more prompt treatment, more streamline admission and discharge procedures and reductions in waiting times”.

The Minister concluded “The strategic reforms proposed for the medical staffing of hospitals complement the major capital developments outlined for hospitals under the National Development Plan which will see an investment of £2 billion in health facilities for the period 2001 to 2006. Recent reports circulated in some of the media, suggested that hospitals would close as a consequence of the implementation of the NCHD Working Hours Report are inaccurate and misrepresented the Report’s recommendations. The suggestion that there are rationalisation plans for the closure of up to 30 hospitals across the country are without foundation. I can assure the general public that neither I nor the Government have any plans to close any hospitals”.