HOSPITALS are hiring foreign doctors who are of a standard that would not have previously been accepted, a leading doctor has claimed.
Dr Sam Coulter Smith, master of the Rotunda in Dublin, said the exodus of many highly trained and well-qualified Irish doctors to hospitals abroad has affected the pool of quality applicants open to the health service here.
It means some foreign junior doctors are now being employed to work in hospitals here because the competition for jobs has been diluted.
Dr Coulter Smith warned that parts of the health service were relying on "imported staff" while exporting nurses and doctors who go on to be "stars" in other countries.
Some foreign doctors who are now being hired would not have got jobs in hospitals here in the past because the competition was tougher, he said.
He was speaking as the Health Service Executive (HSE) admitted 200 jobs for junior doctors who are needed to run services in hospitals from July remain unfilled.
It has had to go on recruitment campaigns to South Africa and Pakistan to try to secure enough doctors to fill posts in key areas such as hospital emergency departments.
Dr Coulter Smith told the Irish Independent that in the past "there was a greater pool of people with a high standard of education and training, qualifications and specialties".
"Competition for posts would have been much tougher in contrast to now, where a lot of Irish healthcare professionals have moved abroad to work elsewhere," he said.
The obstetrician earlier said that "we are relying on staff we have imported from other countries". He insisted that nurses who were hired here in recent years from abroad were "fantastic and very kind and wonderful people".
But "even these nurses are now leaving" for countries such as Canada, Dr Coulter Smith told the breakfast show on Newstalk radio.
Dr Coulter Smith's comments echo similar concerns by other senior medics who are seeing hundreds of Irish educated doctors opt to go abroad for training, despite the millions of euros spent on their education.
They are choosing to go abroad for a range of reasons including better working conditions, a shorter working week and improved pay and training.
The HSE has had to conduct recruitment campaigns in Pakistan and South Africa to help fill some of the 4,910 junior doctor posts which will become vacant in early July as the medics begin their next six monthly rotation.
HSE Director of Human Resources Barry O' Brien said that "earlier this year the HSE engaged two recruitment companies to begin the process of sourcing additional doctors from South Africa".
"Initial reports from the recruitment companies indicate potential availability of 10-20 candidates primarily in emergency medicine with limited numbers across other specialties," he said.
The doctors are expected to be sent to hospitals that are having problems with recruitment such as Letterkenny hospital in Donegal and Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth.
The vacancies are concentrated in anaesthesia, general medicine and emergency medicine at registrar level.
"Where staffing issues exist, there remain sufficient agency staff to meet service needs. This means that the hospital system has operated with a small ongoing vacancy level in recent years," Mr O'Brien added.