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Tax break call for junior docs with student debts

Doctors are "struggling" to meet monthly repayments of up to €1,178 on loans taken out to fund their medical degrees.

The average loan repayments are too high to be covered by the starting non-consultant hospital doctor - or junior doctor - of €2,114 a month after tax, when the cost of living is taken into consideration, "leaving many graduates in severe financial distress", according to a new budget submission.

The submission, which has been sent to Health Minister Leo Varadkar and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, highlights a "debt crisis" facing a group of students and graduates whose fees were not paid by the State.

There are six medical schools in this country, and while many students enter medicine directly after school, one-third of students graduating from medical schools take the graduate entry route.

This is a programme designed for students with an undergraduate degree who wish to pursue a career in medicine, and its offered by four of the six medical schools - however, tuition fees are between €14,000 and €16,000 a year for the four-year programme, in addition to living expenses, and those taking this route don't qualify for State grants.

Fine Gael Cork north central Senator, and Seanad spokesperson for health, Colm Burke, has been meeting with junior doctors to discuss the issue.

Incentives

He has called for Finance Minister Michael Noonan to give serious consideration to the introduction of tax incentives to help retain junior doctors in the Irish hospital system.

"The basic salary of an intern - a first year non-consultant hospital doctor - is €31,000 per annum before tax, he pointed out.

"A large percentage of doctors graduate from university heavily in debt, especially those who studied medicine through the graduate entry programme and paid full fees.

"These graduates pay on average between €14,000 and €16,000 in fees per annum for four years," he said.

The Senator said banks provided loans of €25,000 per annum, for fees and living allowances, amounting to a total of €100,000.

"These doctors cannot now service the repayments on their loans because of the huge reduction in income. If the issue is not addressed many more Irish medical graduates will leave."

"I would support the introduction of a system whereby those who have paid full college fees would be entitled to write off the interest on their loans against tax," he said. It would apply to those who remain here.

fdillon@herald.ie


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