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Sunday 23 July 2017

Taxpayers foot doctor bill on double

Agency staff and foreign medics are being paid for same job

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

A SERIES of blunders by health agencies has left taxpayers footing the bill on the double for doctor cover in several hospitals, the Irish Independent has learned.

Up to 95 foreign doctors are being paid average salaries of €2,521 a month -- or almost €240,000 every four weeks -- despite not yet being cleared to work in Ireland.

At the same time the HSE is paying locum hospital doctors up to €800 a day to cover for some of these foreign recruits while they await their clearance.

The 95 doctors from Pakistan and India, who came to Ireland months ago to take up junior doctor posts in hospitals around the country, have been unable to begin work due to bad planning by a number of health authorities here.

The HSE doctors cannot work until they have passed an exam and other screening by the regulatory watchdog, the Medical Council, to ensure they have a clean record and are competent to care for patients.

However, logistical difficulties have meant the council will be unable to hold examinations for the doctors until November 21.

In the meantime, some of the foreign doctors' places are being taken by highly-paid agency doctors -- meaning the HSE is paying on the double.

A letter sent by the HSE to one of the doctors, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, states that it is conscious that the delays have been "lengthy and sometimes frustrating".

Ordered

It instructed hospitals to begin paying the junior doctors recruited from India and Pakistan from the beginning of October, even though they are unable to start work.

HSE general manager Andrew Condon wrote that the salary payment will stop if they fail the exam.

A spokeswoman for the HSE confirmed this salary is worth €30,257 a year and the gross payment per month is an average of €2,521.

Previous recruits, who arrived in early July, also had to endure a long delay before sitting a previous Medical Council exam on August 30.

They were paid subsistence of €100 a week to help with the accommodation while they received their meals in hospital canteens. However, the initial group was not paid any salary by the HSE.

Although most of the early group who arrived here sat the exams and are now in jobs, some could not be accommodated and a number of them failed.

The HSE was told by the Department of Health to start paying salaries to the 95 doctors, most of whom came to Ireland in a separate intake yet still remain idle.

The payment was given the green light by Health Minister James Reilly, who would have had to sanction that level of spending.

Those who end up failing the exam to practice here should return to India and Pakistan. However, they are likely to be recommended again for the spring 2012 exam to be organised by the council.

The slow speed of the process was exacerbated in some cases by the failure of the doctors to provide all of their background documents, including records relating to their education.

The HSE is trying to cut down on its bill for agency doctors but because of gaps in cover it continues to shell out huge sums for daily cover in some hospitals.

An agency doctor can work a 9am to 5pm shift and then another from 5pm to 9am, earning over €1,000 for the entire session. The junior doctors can expect to earn in the region of €95,000 to €100,000 a year when their salary and overtime payments are combined.

Irish Independent

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