Lorraine Courtney: 'Doctors are right to leave these shores - we can't offer a decent life to our young citizens'
Training doctors is expensive. We rightly invest massively in those who will care for us. But more and more of these medical graduates are upping sticks and taking the qualifications they have gained at the Irish taxpayers' expense abroad.
The Medical Council reports a surge in the number of doctors with a right to practise in Ireland choosing to leave the register. The regulatory body's latest Workforce Intelligence Report found more than 2,800 doctors withdrew voluntarily from the register between 2015 and 2017. Doctors who left the register also pointed to a lack of employer support, workplace understaffing and working hours. Most of these planned to practise in Australia, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Young doctors now comprise an ever-larger proportion of those seeking work overseas. Some 53pc of doctors leaving the register are under 35.
Some say it's time we demanded doctors trained at our expense work a set number of years in the HSE before going abroad - the cost of educating every doctor is so high (a massive €300,000), the State should get some return on its investment. Shouldn't doctors feel obliged to care for the people who paid for their degree?
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No. We can't trap doctors in Ireland until they have offset the cost off their education. Doctors aren't the only ones in search of a better life overseas - we have a long tradition of exporting our young, educated and best graduates. Now, there are at least 6,000 Irish graduates teaching abroad too, mostly in the Gulf states.
There were 56,300 people who emigrated from Ireland in the year to April 2018, and 28,300 are estimated to be Irish nationals. It was a decrease of 8.1pc on the year before, when 30,800 Irish nationals jetted off in search of employment and a different kind of life. But we shouldn't be complacent. Log on to a social networking site and there they are, grinning manically as they throw shrimps on the barbie, raving about the beaches and laid-back living. We're jealous, of course.
Jealous, cold and trying to survive the Irish problems of housing, a creaky health system and the implications of increased longevity and falling birth rates. Not everyone wants to be an emigrant, and it's not all about money. Lots of us have pledged allegiance to the Liffey a million times over, and stayed firmly put through the economic crash-and-burn.
But Ireland's attractions are not as compelling as the Government might hope. Our homes are pokey and expensive, and the Government takes an eye-watering chunk of our incomes every month. Our cost of living is high, our climate middling and our health system seems to be coming apart at the seams. It's bad that scores of doctors, whose education we subsidised, are moving to Brisbane, but it's what happens when a country can't offer a decent life to its citizens.
As young people bore the brunt of austerity, we are more vulnerable to these than most. When we came out of college, there weren't any jobs, so we took whatever job we could get, and started on a lower salary than we would have otherwise done. The 'Graduate Salary & Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey 2016' revealed the national average for starting salaries is currently €28,461, while the average starting salary in Dublin is €24,000, a job that in the US will pay $40,000 to $56,000 (€49,400), Canada $45,000+, the UK £35,000 and so on.
The lowest starting salaries are retail and sales (€24,000), accountancy and financial management (€20,000) and marketing/advertising/media (€20,000).
While someone could have previously expected to start on €30,000, we did it for at least €5,000 less and you don't make up that gap again. At the same time, the government upped taxes with the USC, and house prices and rents started running away from us. Rent and house prices soared by up to 54pc in towns in the Dublin commuter belt over the last five years. Dublin has overtaken Paris for the first time to become the fifth most expensive place to rent a home in Europe. Last weekend we learned Dublin house prices are more than nine times the average salary.
Our health system has inequalities. Far too many mental health and community services are stretched to capacity. The sickest people are waiting for hours and days in busy hospital corridors. The number of public patients waiting to see a specialist has climbed to another high, with 546,630 on outpatient lists. A government that claims it is committed to women's rights has done little to create a society in which balancing childrearing with a career is manageable.
We're all dealt a different hand in life, but we must, despite this disparity, ensure we are a country that cares about its young people. Doctors are right. They are not paid or valued enough here and until we are able to properly reform our health service, the gap between what we can afford to pay medical professionals and what they would earn overseas in more sensible health systems is likely to grow.
At some point even doctors from less well-off nations won't want to come here: their countries are becoming richer, and other medical systems will become ever-more attractive. Meanwhile, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Middle East are waiting to welcome all kinds of Irish graduates with fat pay packs, to fill skills shortages in their hospitals, construction sites, schools and oil fields. Our Government needs to remember we young Irish people have the whole world at our feet.