Foreign medics fill hospital jobs as Irish doctors leave
One in three doctors treating patients here is now from abroad, while home-grown medics - educated at a cost of €100,000 each - are emigrating.
The foreign doctors mainly come from Pakistan, South Africa, the UK, Sudan and India - highlighting the ongoing reliance on non-Irish doctors to keep health services from grinding to a halt.
Many are working as junior doctors in hospitals across the country and are vital to the running of services such as emergency departments, although they are not in traditional training posts.
The revelation comes amid warnings about the risk of depending on doctors who are likely to return to their home country, as well as the morality of recruiting them from areas of the world which are short of medics.
The high number of global recruits on the wards is revealed in a report from the doctors' regulatory body, the Medical Council, which maintains a register of all medics eligible to work here. At the same time nearly one in ten doctors in their 20s withdrew from the Irish medical register last year, many of them opting for more training in hospitals in countries such as Australia.
The "exit" rate of young doctors trained in Irish medical schools was 23pc higher in 2013 than in 2012. The report says one in 20 of this age group, who are still on the register here, is working abroad.
It means that 190 doctors aged 25-29 left the register in 2013. Of these 117 were graduates of Irish medical schools. It recently emerged that it costs taxpayers €100,000 to fund each medical graduate's education.
Responding to the report Health Services Executive boss Tony O'Brien admitted that authorities were "facing challenges recruiting and retaining doctors that we're training here in Ireland".
"We want to ensure we can be competitive, to retain our own trainees, to attract back trainees who are going to different institutions abroad.
"There is a general concern at the moment that we've become uncompetitive and therefore that's leading to certain gaps in our services and we need to address that now," he said.
The report showed that Ireland was one of the biggest producers of medical graduates, with 50 new doctors per 1,000 doctors in the workforce emerging from universities last year.
In July last year there were 16,189 doctors registered here. At the end of the year there were nearly three doctors for every 1,000 people in the population, compared to an EU average of 3.2 per 1,000.
Generally the medical workforce is relatively young, with just one in five aged 55 years or older - compared to an OECD average of one in three.
However, when age profile is investigated in different specialties it shows that one third of GPs are over 55 years, bearing out warnings by family doctors groups about the greying of their ranks.
Caroline Spillane, chief executive of the Medical Council, said it was important to focus on retaining doctors with the right mix of skills.
"Without an informed approach to workforce planning we cannot build a strong health system in Ireland," she said.