Pharmacists say urgently needed overseas staff are unable to complete the training they need to be able to work in Ireland due to the difficulty in obtaining a visa.
A growing shortage of pharmacists needs to be addressed in the short term by recruiting more qualified professionals from overseas, yet hundreds of applicants from outside the European Union remain in a lengthy application process, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) said.
On Monday, The Irish Times reported that hundreds of overseas nurses are stuck in a visa “logjam” caused by delays in obtaining a temporary visa allowing them to do a qualifying exam in Ireland.
Similar issues have arisen in pharmacy, where it is “in effect impossible” for some applicants from outside the EU to complete the required adaptation period because of a “known anomaly” that prevents them obtaining a visa, the IPU told the profession’s regulator last year.
“I would like to reiterate our disappointment in the lack of progress made to date in the known anomaly in the visa progress,” acting IPU general secretary Derek Reilly told the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) last month in a letter seen by The Irish Times. “It is unacceptable that this situation persists.”
Mr Reilly criticised the “slow pace” and “lack of urgency” of their regulator in facilitating the registration of overseas application to practise in Ireland.
“It points to the general indifference to the pharmacy profession and, in particular, the resource pressures currently being felt by our members,” he said.
There are 285 applicants from outside the EU going through a route known as third country qualification recognition (TCQR), according to the regulator. Some 86 of these are at the application form stage; 119 at an equivalence exam stage; 70 undergoing an adaptation period; and 10 doing a professional recognition exam. A further eight applicants have a qualification certificate and are eligible to submit an application to register.
While agreeing it is in the public interest that the regulator is satisfied applicants have relevant qualifications and knowledge to practise as a pharmacist in Ireland, the IPU argues its current approach is unfair to applicants applying under the TCQR route.
Though the 7,169 pharmacists on the register last month is a record figure, the regulator said it recognises there are recruitment and retention issues in the sector.
Last year, 349 pharmacists were added to the register – 155 via a route for Irish applicants, 194 for other applicants, including 90 from the EU and 104 from outside the EU (this includes 88 from the UK). So far this year, 136 pharmacists have been added to the register.
The PSI said it intends to make longer-term recommendations on the future planning of the pharmacy workforce later in the year.
“We appreciate that some applicants find it difficult to obtain a visa to undertake an adaptation period that is required to be completed by them as part of the qualification recognition process,” a spokeswoman said.
“The PSI is currently engaging with the Department of Health to liaise with the relevant Government departments (Justice and Enterprise, Trade and Employment) concerning this matter.”