Recruitment drive eases junior doctor shortage


STAFFING SHORTAGES at junior doctor level have greatly eased since last year’s crisis, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Last week, 68 non-consultant hospital doctor (NCHD) posts remained vacant following the most recent rotation of staff at the start of the month, the HSE said. This represented 1.4 per cent of junior doctor posts available in Irish hospitals and marked a significant reduction on the almost 200 vacancies that arose in July 2011. Last year’s staffing shortages were most keenly felt in emergency departments and in smaller, non-teaching hospitals.

Last year, the HSE went on a recruitment drive in India and Pakistan to fill the vacant NCHD posts. Dr Philip Crowley, national director of quality and patient safety, said this process had largely proved a success, with 290 high-quality doctors working in the Irish system.

“The recruitment and registration process has ensured that all of these doctors have met the high standards and criteria necessary to work in an Irish hospital,” he said.

Recruitment is ongoing and the number of potential vacancies across the country remains fluid, he said.

Many of the vacant posts will be filled by locums or agency doctors on a short-term basis where needs are critical. However, pressures on the HSE budget because of cost overruns are likely to lead to cuts in spending on agency staff for the rest of the year.

The HSE spent almost €2 million recruiting junior doctors from India and Pakistan to plug gaps in the health service, Minister for Health James Reilly revealed earlier this year. The spend included about €169,000 on flights. However, less than half of those who came to Ireland passed an examination set by the Medical Council, and most of those subsequently left Ireland. The HSE paid the doctors €2,500 a month during the interim period.

About 80 per cent of NCHD posts are filled in HSE or voluntary hospitals by postgraduate training bodies as part of their training schemes. The remaining posts are service posts, with about 15 per cent in HSE hospitals and 5 per cent in voluntary hospitals.