Why are so many of our young medics going abroad?
Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30
IT'S called the "July effect" and is based on studies and experience showing that patient accidents increase during one of the twice-yearly occasions when junior doctors in training switch hospitals.
In the next few weeks thousands of junior doctors, the journeymen of the health service, will be taking up their next six-month training stint in new and unfamiliar surroundings. They'll be working with a different team who have their own system of looking after patients.
Yet again, this will be made even more difficult because there are not enough of them, or even senior doctors, particularly in areas like emergency departments. Patients are likely to be met with a doctor from overseas, who moved here to train, prompting questions about why so many young medics, who have received medical education worth up to €100,000 from the taxpayer, are now looking after patients in the UK, Australia or Canada.
The suggestion has now been made by Fine Gael senator Colm Burke that they should be made to work three of the first five years after graduation in an Irish hospital. The proposal has been made by others over the years but has inevitably been rejected by doctors themselves.
He's taken it a step further, saying if the doctors do not want to sign the contract they should be asked to pay the full market fee for three years of their medical education.
Doctors argue this would discriminate against them as other students, who are expensive to educate such as pharmacists, have no such obligation. It would also fail to tackle the root causes of why so many of them are opting to train abroad – often reluctantly.
They cite overcrowding in Irish hospitals, inferior hours and lack of a definable career path for driving them abroad. The junior doctors' industrial action last year in protest at their long working week has led to improvements – but not all hospitals are yet compliant. The Department of Health has commissioned expert reports and is promising changes to make hospitals more attractive to trainees. But it needs investment and those aspiring to be the next hospital specialists will need convincing.
For now, it is patients who again lose out most as they face overstretched medics and hospitals having to reduce clinics and other services to try to keep some control of safety standards.