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IMO wants updated SPHM contract

06 Nov 2015

The IMO has pressed the HSE yet again to update the contract for Specialists in Public Health Medicine (SPHMs) so as to reflect their status better, as well as the importance of the work they perform, under statute, IMT reports.

IMO Assistant Director of Industrial Relations Anthony Owens has written to the HSE’s new National Director of Human Resources Rosarii Mannion requesting a meeting, and indicating the need for an updated contract.

The letter, a copy of which has been seen by IMT, dated October 23, has been copied to HSE Director General Tony O’Brien and Secretary General in the Department of Health Jim Breslin.

Owens told IMT: “It has been widely acknowledged that to practise as a SPHM, a doctor must undergo a comparable level of education and training to a hospital consultant. The IMO believes SPHMs need a contract that reflects the leadership role in health service delivery that they perform on a daily basis.

“The provision of a ‘fit for purpose’ contract to SPHMs will also serve to encourage more young medical graduates to consider a career in the crucial specialty of public health medicine.”

Several third-party assessments have established that SPHMs and Directors of Public Health (DPHs) have the same education and training experiences as their consultant colleagues in other medical specialties.

“However, the requirement for SPHMs to be trained to the same level as consultants in other specialties has not been reflected in the contractual arrangements that apply to this group of doctors,” Owens pointed out in the letter.

This could be demonstrated, he stated, by comparing the standard contract offered to hospital consultants and other non-hospital-based consultants with that for SPHMs.

The contract offered to the hospital and other non-hospital-based consultants was comprehensive, covering the full spectrum of activities under their remit, and set out their leadership roles, whereas the documents for SPHMs — who were responsible for maintaining the health security of the nation — were short, non-standardised and unsatisfactory, making little or no reference to their specialist, leadership, training and research roles, according to Owens. “This ambiguity presents a risk situation for both public health physicians and for the HSE,” he warned.

In line with practice inter-nationally, SPHMs lead national functions in chronic disease prevention and management, cancer control, cancer screening, and food safety, he stressed.

He said Future Health and Healthy Ireland also highlighted the importance of the maintenance of wellness — a core function of public health medicine — as opposed to the treatment of illness, and the health intelligence function provided timely information for planning across all health and social service functions.

“The IMO has been clear in advocating for a fully functioning Public Health Medicine Service; we believe that devising a contract that is fit for purpose in documenting and recognising the full range of services that SPHMs provide, and could provide if properly supported, is a necessary step in beginning the process of making the specialty of public health medicine attractive to more medical graduates, and providing a sustainable public health medicine service into the future,” the correspondence added.

Lloyd Mudiwa

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times