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‘The need to bring back incentives to attract people’

Orthopaedic surgeon Peter O’Rourke. Pic: Declan Doherty


A leading hospital consultant has said that until the HSE takes “ownership and responsibility” Letterkenny University Hospital will continue to struggle to attract permanent staff.
Mr Peter O’Rourke, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at LUH, was speaking after it emerged that a Radiologist position has remained unfilled for seven years in Letterkenny.
Mr O’Rourke, who earns around €185,000 a year, has been working in Letterkenny for the past twenty-one years.
“There was a supplement which came with taking a job in the old North Western Health Board which meant an extra eight of nine per cent in wages as opposed to working somewhere like Dublin but that was done away with under Mary Harney (former Minister for Health).
“The first thing they (HSE) need to do is re-instate salary scales so that all Consultants are paid the same. For example, if a new Consultant colleague starts work with me tomorrow I would earn between forty and fifty thousand euro a year more for doing exactly the same work.
“Also, they need to bring back incentives to attract people to come to Letterkenny or otherwise they won’t come. If you gave someone €220,000 they would possibly come. If not, you have to spend the money on locum doctors and they that can cost you up to €300,000 per year,” Mr O’Rourke said.
The Doctor said that a ‘considerable’ number of clinical posts remain unfilled in Letterkenny, adding to the problem of long waiting lists.
“No one wants to publicly voice what is going on because they don’t want people to know the crazy amounts of money we’re talking about there.
“A Consultants salary today is about €135,000, against more than €180,000 which I currently earn. No one is going to come to work for that sort of money – not when they can earn multiples of that in Canada or Australia, As a result we’re left with the current high level of HSE spend on locum doctors.
“I know of doctors who have left permanent contracts and have come back to do locum work where they earn one and a half or two times what they were previously earning through agency rates. They’ve given up pensionable jobs but they are doing so by choice, rather than taking on a full-time contract, because of the generous pay rates,” he said.
“The high number of locum doctors in Letterkenny is indicative of a service that struggles to recruit doctors and then struggles to retain those that it has recruited,’ he added.
Mr O’Rourke said that the failings of the Health Service had left him both frustrated and depressed.
“As a Consultant, I’m getting paid less than I was ten or eleven years ago. Many of my colleagues have since voted with their feet and have left.
“When I first came to Letterkenny wild horses wouldn’t have been able to drag me away from the hospital. I loved every minute of it but, then again, that health service is far removed to that which exits today. I’m looking forward to my retirement. I’ll be fifty-nine in a few weeks time and I can retire when I’m sixty-two, I’m sorry to say but I’m counting down the days.
“No one is taking ownership or responsibly for what’s happening in the health service. When I started I was in surgery (theatre) six days every four weeks. Today, that’s down to two and a half days every four weeks. The health service I joined no longer exists,” he sighed.

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