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Doctor shortage 'puts patients at risk'

ONE of the country's largest hospital emergency departments was nearly forced to close over a shortage of junior doctors.

The Mercy University Hospital in Cork city came close to shutting the doors of its emergency unit last Wednesday, consultant Dr Chris Luke revealed.

Dr Luke is a consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital.

His comments came as it emerged one junior doctor received more than €200,000 in overtime payments last year.

The figure is four times the average annual salary for the position.

The registrar at a midlands hospital got €201,885 in overtime payments in 2009.

HSE documents show that more than €1m was paid in overtime to 10 junior doctors in the midwest.

The overall bill in the midwest region for working extra hours in 2009 was €18.1m, compared to €19.2m in 2008.

Dr Luke told a newspaper that the shortage of junior doctors was putting the health of doctors and their patients at risk.

He insisted under-staffing is "hazardous" for patients and doctors.

Dr Luke urged the Government and HSE to address the problem "as a matter of urgency".

Last year, junior doctors were up in arms over plans by the HSE to cut their earnings and amend their work practices.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) had argued the average junior doctor, some of whom were 10 years qualified, would see wages slashed by 40pc.

The HSE had claimed the cuts would result in a 10 to 20pc drop.

A huge drop in applications for junior doctor posts in hospitals was blamed on the amount of young doctors emigrating.

HSE documents relating to 2009 showed that applications for posts which needed to be filled by the new year had fallen by more than half, when compared to a year previously, at some hospitals.

Both large and small hospitals were affected and it was warned the recruitment problems could result in significant gaps in service areas this year.

The figures showed there was a 59pc drop in applications for junior doctor or non-consultant hospital doctor (NCHD) posts at Tullamore Hospital and a 56pc drop at Connolly Hospital in Dublin.

There were also significant falls at Waterford Regional Hospital, Cork University Hospital and Dublin's St Vincent's hospital.

Speaking at the time, Dr Anthony O'Connor, a member of the IMO's junior doctor committee, said the talk among junior doctors in all hospitals now was how quickly they could get out of Ireland.