Visa rules eased in health sector


Foreign doctors, dentists, radiographers and other health professionals will be able to apply for special work visas from May 20th. At present, only nurses, IT specialists and some construction industry professionals can avail of the system, which was introduced in June 2000 as a fast-track alternative to the work permit system which operates for other groups of workers from outside the EU.

Up to the end of January 2002, some 5,362 foreign workers obtained visas under the scheme, including 2,738 nurses.

Its extension to other health professionals, and to social workers, was announced yesterday by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Harney, and the Minister for Health and Children, Mr Martin.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Irish Medical Organisation and by IMPACT.

The national secretary of IMPACT, Mr Kevin Callinan, said that the number of speech and language therapists needed to increase by 350 per cent to meet patient needs.

The numbers of physiotherapists and occupational physiotherapists needed to increase by 100 per cent and 150 per cent, respectively. While the visas were a welcome short-term measure, Mr Callinan said they were no substitute for adequate training facilities and working conditions to attract young Irish people to these professions.

Shortages are almost as severe among non-consultant hospital doctors. Almost half of these are non-EU nationals. The IMO's director of industrial relations, Mr Fintan Hourihan, said that the org-anisation had been in discussions with the Department of Health and Children on the initiative for some time and welcomed it.

Health service employers will now be able to use the work visa system to accelerate recruitment of: doctors, dentists, diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers, dieticians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, medical physicists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, social workers, medical scientists, physiotherapists, hospital pharmacists, ECG technicians, neuro-physiological measurement technicians, cardiac catheterisation technicians, audiologists and biochemists.