System of recruiting foreign doctors defended

Wed, Jan 11, 2012, 00:00

THE HEALTH Service Executive has defended the process of recruiting doctors from India and Pakistan to help solve its staffing crisis, following the news that half of the candidates sitting clinical exams in December failed them and must return home.

The HSE’s national director of quality and patient safety Dr Philip Crowley said the December results were not representative as the average failure rate overall was about 20 per cent.

In December, approximately 110 candidates did the clinical examinations in seven specialities and approximately 50 candidates passed the tests, which were conducted on behalf of the Irish Medical Council.

The figures were highlighted in a newspaper report yesterday. Dr Crowley said the overall failure rate for doctors selected from India and Pakistan was 20 per cent, which was the expected failure rate for tests of this level of competency.

“I think a 20 per cent failure rate is, to be honest, quite expected . . . what reassures me is that we have a rigorous test of competency,” he said on RTÉ Radio’s News at One. The practical examinations involve simulated clinical scenarios with multiple examiners.

Dr Crowley said the system of recruiting doctors from India and Pakistan was “largely a success”.

“Of the doctors recruited from India and Pakistan, 290 have passed the Irish Medical Council exams and are now registered and have taken up their posts in Irish hospitals,” he said.

Dr Crowley said the HSE was last year facing a major crisis in the employment of non-consultant hospital doctors with 200 vacancies and threats of service closures.

In this year’s January roster changeover, approximately 60 posts had not yet been filled. The HSE said many of these posts would be filled by locum or agency doctors in line with service needs.

Dr Crowley said the successful candidates were working in the HSE’s supervised division on two- year contracts. The HSE had been criticised for allowing a situation to develop whereby the doctors had arrived in Ireland months before they were allowed to undertake the clinical examinations and become registered.

Dr Crowley said he would probably agree that the process could be organised more efficiently but he rejected claims that the recruitment drive had wasted money by financially supporting the doctors as they waited for the exams.

He said the costs in bringing the doctors here were “very minimal” when compared with the costs saved in not employing locums to do this work. It was also important to support these doctors from an ethical point of view, he said.

“I think we have struck a reasonable balance. We have supported people properly, we have funded them while they waited to sit the exam and I think it’s been quite reasonable.”

A spokeswoman for the Irish Medical Council said all candidates who were unsuccessful in the examinations would receive a breakdown of their results and would have the opportunity to appeal if they wished.

The HSE said the doctors who failed the exams had been advised to return home and, from there, pursue any appeal or further application to sit another examination.

The doctors were given up to €700 for travelling expenses before they came here and the majority had purchased return airline tickets, the HSE said.

In the case of the doctors who did not buy return tickets, the HSE said arrangements for these doctors were being dealt with on a case- by-case basis at local hospital level. The HSE recruitment drive in India and Pakistan has been a controversial matter. In September, it emerged that some doctors had left the Republic in frustration at the delays in sitting exams to attain their registration.