HSE says up to 400 junior doctor posts may be vacant


UP TO 400 junior doctor posts across the State could be left vacant in July due to a shortage of applicants for the jobs, it has emerged.

In a briefing last week, senior Health Service Executive officials confirmed to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association that there had been about 950 applicants for its recent centralised competition for junior doctor posts, leaving it potentially short of 300-400 doctors.

Junior doctors or non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) usually rotate posts every six months as part of their training. Since the last rotations in January, there are around 150 posts vacant.

Donal Duffy, assistant secretary general of the consultants’ association, said however the latest figures indicated the problem of trying to fill posts was getting worse.

“What is most worrying this time round is the training bodies are unable to fill the training posts they have in a range of specialities,” he said.

Traditionally recognised training posts would be first to be filled, with so-called service posts not recognised for training always proving more difficult to fill.

The HSE hopes to fill some of the gaps through a recruitment campaign in India and Pakistan.

However, Mr Duffy said that even if doctors were recruited from there in the coming months it would take time for the Garda to vet them and register them with the Medical Council. This meant it was unlikely they would be ready to take up jobs on July 1st.

“We are facing a situation where hospitals are going to be short NCHD staff in July. That will clearly have an impact on services. There will be some hospitals much more adversely effected than others.”

Already it looks like Letterkenny General Hospital is particularly short of applicants. There are also worries about a shortage of applicants for posts at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick and for mental health services in Kerry.

Mr Duffy criticised the HSE for not beginning the centralised recruitment process earlier and said there were problems with the online process that required applicants to indicate their preferred speciality and hospital.

This meant a doctor applying for a post from abroad could register an interest in getting a job in neurology in Mayo when in fact no such post existed, he said.

The national council of the consultants’ association, at its monthly meeting on Saturday, expressed concerns about difficulties in retaining and recruiting hospital consultants.

“Any further decline in medical staffing will undermine the safety of the public health services and its capacity to treat patients,” Mr Duffy said. “These much-sought-after doctors are now working in other countries where their talents are more valued or are simply retiring early.”

A HSE spokeswoman said the shortage of junior doctors was a worldwide problem. She said the HSE was working with the Irish Medical Organisation, the consultants’ association and the Medical Council to find solutions.

“There are more doctors working in the Irish healthcare system now than previously,” she said. “We have had a 25 per cent increase in the number of consultants since 2005.”