Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has criticised claims of an exodus of doctors from the country, saying up to four out of every five recently-trained doctors are working here.
Mr Donnelly, who is travelling to Australia next week to attend a St Patrick’s Day parade there, says he plans to get the views of Irish emigrant doctors in Perth when he visits the city.
“There’s a narrative that there isn’t a doctor in Ireland because they’re all on Bondi beach or in Perth, but the facts don’t support that,” he said. “It’s okay to go abroad, we want our doctors to get international experience, and we want them to come back.”
The Minister was speaking at the launch of a report on the training of junior doctors, which recommends greater work flexibility, more staffing and fewer geographic rotations in order to make working in the Irish health service more attractive.
The vast majority (82 per cent) of interns from 2015-2018 are now back working in Ireland, while the proportion of doctors who finished training between 2016 and 2019 ranges between 68 per cent and 78 per cent, according to Prof Brian Kinirons, medical director of the HSE’s National Doctors Training and Planning Department.
Non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) are a transient, vulnerable workforce, but also the first point of contact for many patients attending hospital, he said.
Mr Donnelly said he was shocked and horrified by what he had previously found out about the working conditions of junior doctors, who had told him of problems such as having to sleep on friends’ couches while on rotation, being penalised with emergency taxes when changing jobs, 24-hour shifts and abusive behaviour.
“The way we have treated NCHDs is completely unacceptable and extraordinary foolish, and is causing unnecessary harm to the health service,” he said.
He said it was time to draw up a single new NCHD contract that would be “cognisant” of the longer hours consultants on their new contract can be rostered.
The report by the National Taskforce on the NCHD Workforce makes 44 recommendations aimed at improving the working experience and work-life balance of junior doctors.
Mr Donnelly said he wanted some areas to be prioritised, including improved working standards, increased access to training places and better IT.
The report says there should be just one rotation requiring a geographic move over the four to five years an NCHD spends in training, compared with the current practice of six- or 12-monthly rotations.
It recommends an additional 1,500 consultant posts, to bring numbers up to 6,000 by the end of the decade.
The number of NCHDs has reached 8,700, up more than a quarter since December 2019.