Up to 600 doctors may leave Irish health system in July, IMO warns

Growing disquiet among non-consultant hospital doctors about working conditions

The IMO warned that fewer non-consultant hospital doctors in the system would mean more work and pressure on those that remained. File photograph: Getty Images

The IMO warned that fewer non-consultant hospital doctors in the system would mean more work and pressure on those that remained. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Up to 600 non-consultant hospital doctors may leave the Irish health system this summer to work abroad, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned.

It said that in recent months there had been growing disquiet among these doctors about their working conditions, while the number of intern positions available is also expected to decrease this summer having been increased a year ago to help resource hospitals to deal with the initial outbreak of Covid-19.

The IMO said this scale of departures of non-consultant hospital doctors from the Irish health system this summer would be “unprecedented”.

Non-consultant hospital doctors typically rotate their jobs on a six-monthly basis to gain experience in different specialities and hospitals. The IMO said there was a key rotation each summer – in July.

The vice-chair of the IMO’s non-consultant hospital doctor committee, Dr Gabriel Beecham, said this group of doctors was “being squeezed on a number of fronts”.

“On the one hand, there are going to be fewer places for early-career doctors to work, as the HSE is reducing the available places for interns and is making basic specialist training even more selective. On the other hand, non-consultant hospital doctors are questioning the wisdom of staying in Ireland, given the long working hours and the chronic manpower problems in the health services here.”

Dr Beecham said non-consultant hospital doctors feared that conditions in the Irish health system, which had improved last year at the start of the pandemic as resources were deployed, were beginning to slip back to those that applied prior to Covid-19. He said in some specialties rosters had been boosted to reduce the length of shifts but in some areas these were increasing again.

Dr Beecham suggested “hundreds” of non-consultant hospital doctors could leave the Irish health system in July, with many planning to travel to work in Australia in particular. He said that when doctors who could not secure intern posts were included, the numbers leaving could well be up to 500 or 600.

“Our waiting lists are higher than ever and are getting worse, and the pandemic has by no means ended, yet we are on the verge of forcing hundreds of trained and skilled doctors to leave the country and bring those skills to other jurisdictions. It’s madness.”

Pressure

The IMO warned that fewer non-consultant hospital doctors in the system would mean more work and pressure on those that remained.

Dr Beecham said: “The non-consultant hospital doctors carry an enormous burden and are routinely forced to work more hours than they should. If we lose hundreds from this current non-consultant hospital doctor population, it will be bad news for those that remain. It also flies in the face of the efforts being made in other countries to increase the resources available to health services rather than reduce it.”

The IMO on Sunday urged the Health Service Executive to review plans to reduce the number of posts available for non-consultant hospital doctors.

“If we want to encourage doctors who have been trained here to remain here, then we need to start by ensuring there are adequate training places for them. Time is critical here as non-consultant hospital doctors are making plans as we speak.”

In the Dáil last Thursday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that this time last year the then government had made a “one-off announcement that we provide an extra 200 or 300 internships, particularly for medical students from overseas who train in Ireland and often struggle to get an internship”.

“I had hoped that would continue. It seems it is not and I do not know why. I do think we treat overseas doctors and foreign medical students unfairly in Ireland, and that is not right. I will check it out over the next couple of days and see what I can do.”

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