A doctor based in the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar, Dr Siobhán Neville, speaks out about why strike action was taken around the country today.
by Olga Aughey
"The reasons for today’s strike are twofold.
“One is to reduce the maximum shift length of NCHDs (non-consultant hospital doctors) to 24 hours consecutively.
“Currently some NCHDs would be working 36 hours or more, depending on the institution, but certainly upwards of 24 hours in a row.
“We’re also hoping to expedite the implementation of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD), which has been in Irish law for 10 years now, and that states that the maximum hours in a week could be 48, and I think 13 hours in a row. But there’s a long-term plan for putting that in place.”
Dr Neville has experienced and seen some NCHDs working for three days solid.
“Not in Mullingar, but in some hospitals in the country you might start work on Saturday morning and you might not leave until Monday, or Monday evening.
“There’s no guarantee of a food break, toilet break, rest break. If you’re lucky you might get sleep but on a bad night you might not.”
The campaign to take strike action was borne out of the suicides of two NCHDs.
“This campaign was sparked, very unfortunately, by the suicide of two NCHDs in the country and this prompted one of our colleagues to write an article. And this really got people thinking about the affects of these kind of shifts on doctors’ health but also on patients’ health.
“We’re frightened about the decisions we’re making when we’re this tired.”
How does Mullingar compare with hospitals around the country?
“I’d like to say something positive about Mullingar actually. I think compared to some of the other hospitals I worked in, it’s certainly making steps to the European Working Time Directive in most specialties in Mullingar – it would have a maximum shift length of close 24 hours – maybe between 24 and 28 hours.
“There are one or two exceptions to this."
Starting strike action at 7.30am this morning, the NCHDs have received huge public support.
“We’ve had fantastic support from the public, we’ve had fantastic support from pretty much all the NCHDs eligible to be here today. Obviously some people are in work at the minute.
“We are providing Sunday cover plus a few – so the patients in the hospital are safe, they’re well covered, the same way they would be over a weekend.
“It’s things like elective lists and outpatient clinics have been cancelled.
“The idea of this is absolutely not to inconvenience any patients, and we’d like to apologise to any patients who had procedures cancelled, or any outpatients who had appointments cancelled.
“But really the long-term goal of this is to make hospital care safer for patients, that is the most important thing about this.”
What about people who have been on waiting lists for over a year and have had their operations or appointments cancelled?
“Again it’s very unfortunate, and obviously the HSE have been putting out statements to make it sound like we’re putting patients out, this is a last resort.
“None of us want to be here. This has been going on for a long time. We have tried every other avenue. It is incredibly reluctantly that we strike today but our aim is patient safety.
“In the long-term this is about delivering safer care to patients. All emergencies will be seen today. Patients who have had appointments cancelled will have appointments rescheduled, it’s not NCHDs’ fault that the waiting lists are as long as they are. That’s again the HSE situation which needs to be organised better.”
Is there a possibility of another day’s strike?
“As far as I know the INMO have heard nothing from the HSE so far today. The INMO are meeting tomorrow. (*Clarification - this should be IMO NCHD Committee.)
“This is out of genuine concern for the care of patients. I think the public’s difficulty to date has just been getting their heads round it. I think people don’t get how long these shifts are, and even talking to people on the street today, they are starting to understand. Giving us excellent support
“Once again this is not about money. If this comes in we would actually earn less money.
(Dr Siobhán Neville has been working in Paediatrics in Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar since July.)
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