Editorial: We just cannot afford exodus of doctors
Although our universities and associated teaching hospitals turn out hundreds of doctors annually, it now emerges that once again this year we are facing a shortage of trained medical personnel, especially junior doctors, who are at the front line of the hospital service in A&E and outpatient clinics. From the time a student goes into medical school until a doctor emerges it is estimated that the taxpayer spends €100,000 on each individual doctor's training and education.
It appears to be a very poor return for the taxpayer that, once they have completed this expensive medical education, many Irish junior doctors find it more beneficial for their career development to emigrate to the UK, Australia or Canada where they are as big a bonus to whatever health or hospital service they decide to join as they are a loss to the Irish health system.
The Irish health service then needs to make up for this shortfall by recruiting from abroad. While this ebb and flow has been a feature of the health service for many years it has now reached a critical point where our hospitals will be short of so many doctors that hospitals may have to put contingency measures in place, scaling down on admissions and out-patient appointments in the interest of patient safety. The already cash-strapped health service will also have to resort to employing more expensive agency staff to plug the gaps.
This does beg to question: why is some sort of residency criteria not compulsory for doctors who are educated at such enormous cost out of the public purse? In other walks of life people who receive expensive training, such as airline pilots, have to sign contracts stipulating that they will stay with the employer who paid for their training for set periods.
It would seem some such arrangement should be put in place for doctors or any other employee who is trained and educated to such levels at the expense of the taxpayer. This is an issue that has to be seen in the context of the times we live in and it needs to be tackled soon unless the public is prepared to put up with a growing shortage of doctors and the expense it entails.