Rise in struck-off doctors 'no cause for concern'

Thu, Jun 14, 2012, 01:00

A SHARP rise in the number of doctors being struck off last year should not be a cause for public concern, Minister for Health James Reilly has said.

Eight doctors were struck off in 2011, as many as in the three preceding years, according to the annual report of the Medical Council, published yesterday.

Dr Reilly said the increase was due to greater surveillance and earlier intervention by the council, which picked up on doctors “going off the path before they cause real harm”.

He cautioned against “dismissing” doctors with professional problems as a first resort, saying prevention was better than cure in many cases where doctors were losing competency.

While there would still be doctors who “stray outside with terrible detrimental consequences for patients”, the council’s job was to ensure this happened as infrequently as possible.

The number of doctors against whom complaints were made increased from 384 to 433 last year, or one for every 43 doctors, according to the report.

In addition to the eight doctors who had their registration removed after appearing at a fitness-to-practise committee, a further six doctors had conditions imposed, such as a requirement to attend training courses or referral for treatment. Another 15 were censured or admonished.

Of 32 doctors referred to the council’s health subcommittee, 10 were referred for reasons of mental disability, nine for drug use, eight for alcohol and drug use and four for alcohol use alone.

A total of 380 new complaints were received in 2011, representing a 5 per cent increase from 2010. Decisions were made in relation to 367 of them and 39 were referred to the fitness-to-practise committee for investigation. The committee heard 37 cases and eight of these resulted in the cancellation of the doctor’s registration.

Last year professional competence requirements for all practising doctors were introduced. It is now a legal requirement for all doctors to engage in ongoing training in order to retain their registration with the Medical Council.

“We are now overseeing a doctor’s registration from the day they enter medical school until the day they retire from the register,” said Prof Kieran Murphy, president of the council.

Prof Murphy said the council planned to introduce monitoring procedures this year to ensure the system was working effectively.

New performance procedures had also been developed that would allow the Medical Council to work in a more targeted way with doctors who may have performance issues.

Some 18,812 doctors were registered to work in Ireland last year, of whom 11,388 were male.

Dr Reilly criticised the HSE, which was running €146 million over budget by the end of March, for a “lack of clarity” over its spending and finances.

He said the spending projections put forward in some areas did not always turn out to be accurate, as in the case of the Fair Deal scheme last year.

“I need to be able to know and to assure the taxpayer that their money is being spent where we said it would be spent, and to know what every hospital, department and local health office is spending,” Dr Reilly said.