If you’re sick, it’s not your responsibility to find a locum

Many doctors are unaware that it is not their responsibility as a sick doctor to source locum cover

By Dr Lynda Sisson, Dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and National Clinical Lead for Workplace Wellbeing for health service employees

On 18 October 2019 I gave a talk at the St Luke’s Symposium Advanced Masterclass on barriers for doctors accessing care in the health system.

I was struck by the reaction on Twitter to this point from my talk: “It is NOT your responsibility as a sick doctor to find a locum to cover you. It's the responsibility of your employer.”

This tweet from the RCPI Twitter account was widely shared and has been viewed by 12,000 people. Responses from doctors on Twitter indicate that many are unaware that it is not their responsibility as a sick doctor to source locum cover.

If you are sick and a locum is required, it is your employer/clinical director’s responsibility to find one. This is clearly outlined in the NCHD contract and the consultants contract.

Most doctors in Ireland are employees of the HSE or HSE-funded organisations (Voluntary Hospitals). All HSE and HSE-funded organisations make the same provisions for sick leave, critical illness payment, injury grant, maternity and paternity leave, carers’ leave, parental leave and pregnancy risk assessments. You will find details of all of these in the Terms and Conditions of Employment.

Equivalent Information should be available from each Voluntary Hospital.

Sick doctors are expected to comply with this Managing Attendance Policy.

An equivalent policy should be available in each Voluntary Hospital.

For the vast majority of NCHDs, their manager is their consultant, who is contractually obliged to implement all of these policies and should be the first port of call for all related queries. In some places, medical manpower or local HR provide some of these services on behalf of the organisation. If this is the case, this should be clarified at induction.

We are concerned about self-reported barriers stopping trainee doctors from accessing mental health services

Recent research identified self-reported barriers stopping trainee doctors from accessing mental health services. 61% of those surveyed said they would have benefited from psychiatric treatment but only 24% who felt they needed care actually sought treatment.

Commonly reported barriers to seeking care were lack of time (77%), concerns about confidentiality (67%), what others would think (55%), cost (58%), and effect on ability to obtain licensure (30%).

This is concerning and I would urge doctors to seek treatment if they need it. The College has a Health and Wellbeing Department staffed by a full-time psychologist, who is available to advise those in distress. To self refer email wellbeing@rcpi.ie.

The HSE national Strategy for Doctors’ Health and Wellbeing 2018-2021 contains recommended standards designed for medical students, NCHDs, Consultants and GPs. It is to be relaunched in 2020.

Dr Lynda Sisson

Dr Lynda Sisson

Dr Lynda Sisson was Dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine from 2018 to 2020. Dr Sisson also holds the role of HSE National Clinical Lead for Workplace Health and Well Being for health service employees. After graduation from Trinity College Dublin, Dr Sisson trained in General Practice in Dublin and the Mayo Clinic, USA. She then completed a Masters in Public Health at the University of Minnesota. Having become American Board Certified in both General Practice, Occupational Medicine and Public Health Medicine, she was made Assistant Professor Occupational Medicine in University of California at San Francisco. On returning to Ireland, Dr Sisson spent six years as Occupational Health Physician at Tallaght Hospital. She previously held the role of Director of Competence Assurance at the Medical Council.