Law gives non-EU doctors better chance of becoming consultants in Ireland

Act allows access to training but foreign clinicians remain critical of preference system

More than one-third of doctors working in Irish hospitals were trained abroad. File photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

More than one-third of doctors working in Irish hospitals were trained abroad. File photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

Foreign-trained doctors with internships previously not recognised by the Irish Medical Council are eligible, from Friday, to apply for specialist training programmes.

The changes in legislation mean many doctors who have been in long-term service roles will have a better chance of progressing their careers and becoming consultants in Irish hospitals.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly signed the commencement orders of the Act this week bringing into effect changes signed into law by the President in October.

Before this, non-EU qualified doctors had to prove that their internship, if completed outside the EU, was equivalent to an Irish internship in order to qualify for trainee specialist registration. As a result, hundreds of qualified doctors could not advance their careers and have increasingly started moving to the UK seeking better opportunities.

The Medical Council acknowledged on Friday that large numbers of non-EU doctors were withdrawing from the Irish medical register in order to access further training abroad, “to the detriment of Irish hospitals and healthcare facilities”.

The council’s president Dr Rita Doyle noted that the Irish healthcare system was “dependent on foreign-trained doctors” and that their departure had been “a drain” on the level of care available in the State.

“These amendments will benefit not just the doctors who can now undertake further training and education, but also patients who will have access to a well-trained medical workforce,” said Dr Doyle.

The passing of the Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Act 2020 should enable all foreign doctors who qualified outside the EU to apply and qualify for Basic Specialist Training and High Specialist Training programmes. However, doctors from outside the European Economic Area who were already eligible to apply before the legislative change have warned the preference system for allocating places will still prevent many doctors from actually securing a place on these programmes.

Specialist medical training schemes are currently allocated with first preference going to Irish citizens followed by EU nationals. If any places are left, they are offered to eligible candidates from outside the EU.

Before the recent legal changes, the Irish Medical Council recognised non-EU internships from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sudan, South Africa, the UK and Malta.

Dr Mohsin Kamal, a registrar in infectious diseases at Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin, said while the Bill would allow more doctors to apply for training, non-EU doctors would still be “at the bottom of every training post” when it comes the allocating place. He added that doctors from Pakistan and other countries that were previously eligible would now have to sit additional exams to qualify for training.

Dr Kamal accused the Government of introducing minor legislative changes to appease frustrated doctors who have demanded “training and career progression opportunities on an equal basis irrespective of race and nationality”. The demands of non-EU doctors are simple, said Dr Kamal. “Training opportunities on an equal basis.”

Medical Council chief executive Philip Brady described the legislative change as a “major development” which would “open access to doctors who are appropriately qualified and have established eligibility for general registration”.

More than one-third of the doctors working in Irish hospitals trained abroad, according to data from the council.

There are 6,318 in total, while 1,380 are Pakistani, 714 are Sudanese, 650 are from the UK, 517 are Romanian, 336 are South African, 277 are Egyptian and 197 are Polish. Overall, there are17,925 “clinically active” doctors in Ireland.