Lack of junior doctors will affect service, hospitals warn


Hospitals expect to have real difficulty providing service next month if not enough junior doctors are registered in time, writes EITHNE DONNELLAN,Health Correspondent

A NUMBER of hospitals will not be able to maintain their current levels of service next month because of the shortage of junior doctors, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has been told.

A group representing medical manpower managers across the State’s hospitals issued the warning two weeks ago in a letter that has been seen by The Irish Times.

In it, the chairwoman of the group, Iris Cranley, says that when manpower managers met on May 18th “major concerns were expressed in relation to the lack of NCHD [non-consultant hospital doctor or junior doctor] staff” and the difficulties encountered in relation to registering new recruits with the Medical Council.

“Medical manpower managers are of the opinion that, unless there is some resolution to the current difficulties with registration, a number of hospitals will not be in a position to function at current levels, due to a lack of registered NCHDs in July 2011,” she wrote.

“We are all aware of the timeframe between doctors applying for registration and the approval of same as, quite rightly, there are a number of checks to be carried out on applicants.

“As July 11th looms, we would ask that you convey the real difficulties hospitals expect [to experience] in providing services should there be insufficient NCHDs registered,” she added. July 11th is when the doctors are rotated between posts as part of their training.

The letter was sent to Andrew Condon, the general manager of the office of the HSE’s national director of human resources.

In a response on June 1st, he said he appreciated “the very significant difficulties arising from delays in the processing of applications for registration with the Medical Council”.

All doctors need to be registered with the Medical Council before they can work in Ireland and Mr Condon confirmed that the HSE had arranged for four of its staff to be assigned to the Medical Council’s registration department to assist in the processing of applications.

Last week, one manpower manager suggested there were more than 440 doctors in India and Pakistan now who would be willing to come to Ireland to fill vacant junior doctor posts in hospitals if the Medical Council did not put so many obstacles in their way.

The Medical Council said, however, that it could not compromise the robustness of the registration process by fast-tracking processes that could affect the levels of protection afforded to the public.

Doctors from outside the European Union who want to be registered here need to produce documentary proof of their qualifications, and most also have to sit a written examination to evaluate their level of knowledge and an assessment of their clinical, communication and interpretation skills. This clinical exam must be taken in Ireland.

The entire process usually takes months, but the HSE is hoping it can be streamlined so that junior doctor posts falling vacant on July 11th can be filled. In a bid to fill an anticipated 200-400 vacant junior doctor posts in July, the HSE sent a delegation to India and Pakistan to recruit from there.

While the Medical Council has started a consultation process on requirements for exempting some doctors from having to take the written and clinical exams, it appears many of the Indian and Pakistani recruits are unlikely to be registered to work here by July 11th.

The shortage of junior doctors here has been blamed on the long working day, pay cuts, and lack of training opportunities and opportunities for career progression.

The HSE says, however, that the shortage is a worldwide problem.