Red tape keeps hundreds of new junior doctors idle
NEARLY 300 badly needed junior doctors, recruited at great expense from Pakistan and India to work in Irish hospitals, have been idle for nearly two months because of red tape, it was learned yesterday.
Many of the doctors have been living in bed and breakfast accommodation or hospital hostels around the country since the beginning of July, surviving on a €100-a-week subsidy from the Health Service Executive (HSE).
They have been unable to work despite the shortfall of 191 junior doctors since early July, with hospitals across the country struggling to provide services to patients. The hold-up has been mostly blamed on the government delay in changing the law to make it easier for the new medics to register with the Medical Council, the doctors' regulatory body, which must give them clearance before they can work here.
Although the staff shortages had been signalled for months, the law on registration, which now allows eligible junior doctors from outside the European Union to work here for two years, was not changed until July 8.
The new rules were not published until July 18 -- a week after the exodus of many junior doctors from hospitals, leaving areas such as emergency departments in desperate need of medical cover.
The HSE told the Irish Independent yesterday it was still waiting for 293 doctors, who started arriving in Ireland in July, to be cleared to work.
They need to have all their documentation validated and must pass a competence exam before they are free to work.
The Medical Council said about 10 doctors had been fully registered; and while 270 had sat a competence exam, full documentation was outstanding for the majority of candidates.
And even if they have passed the competence exam, they cannot be given permission to start work in a hospital until all of their credentials and records are verified.
The doctors were asked to work in Ireland during a €113,000 10-day recruitment mission by HSE managers and consultants.
As part of the incentive package, they were offered perks worth €9,000 each, including a weekly accommodation allow- ance for eight weeks, €700 towards the flight and €100 for the visa.
Their exam fees will also be paid and they will be entitled to a normal €61.20 allowance for junior doctors not resident in hospital accommodation.
Senator Colm Burke, Fine Gael spokesman on health in the Seanad, yesterday criticised the delay and said there was clearly poor communication between the HSE, the Department of Health and the Medical Council, especially as the shortfall of junior doctors had been known about since January.
"We have doctors in the country who are in guesthouse accommodation, being paid for by the HSE, but who cannot work," he added.
The HSE could not say how much it had paid out in accommodation or meal allowances to the doctors so far, but said 288 were currently being subsidised.
A spokeswoman for the Medical Council said its registration processes were designed to protect the public and ensure that doctors had the necessary education, training and competence to practise in Ireland.
It had been prioritising any declarations it had received from the HSE, which outlined the nature of the hospital post for each of the doctors, the duties they would have to perform and what supervision would be in place.