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“At a time when we need more specialist Consultants and doctors, we are losing them at an alarming rate”- IHCA

Commenting on today’s publication of the Medical Council’s ‘Medical Workforce Intelligence Report 2021’, the Irish Hospital Consultants (IHCA) said that the Irish health system is losing its highly trained specialists and future Hospital Consultants at an alarming rate, after the report revealed a quarter of all doctors who voluntarily withdrew their registration last year were specialists.

IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine, said:

“At a time when we need more specialist Consultants and doctors, we are losing them at an alarming rate. The Medical Council’s report today confirms unequivocally what Consultants have been warning of for years.

“Some 215 specialist doctors voluntarily withdrew from the Specialist Division of the register last year. This is a quarter of the total number of voluntary withdrawals from the register and represents a 16% increase (+29 withdrawals) on the 186 specialists who left the specialist division in 2020.

“The loss of these highly trained specialists is a damning indictment of the situation in the Irish health service and a core reason why we have lengthening patient waiting lists and over 900,000 people facing delays to accessing essential care.

“Despite Ireland producing the highest number of medical graduates in the OECD, we are still experiencing significant vacancies. The number of doctors who entered the specialist division for the first time in 2021 (278) is just 60 more than the known number of specialists withdrawing from the medical register last year.

“It is no surprise therefore that there are now almost 900 permanent Hospital Consultant posts either totally vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis, 22% of all approved posts. These vacancies and the overall shortage in the number of specialists – 38% below the EU average on a population basis – is the key workforce capacity deficit that is resulting in longer delays for patients awaiting assessment and treatment.

“The report worryingly found that 62% of doctors are consistently working more than 40 hours per week with 29% regularly working over 48 hours. Such excessive workloads and understaffing in the Irish health service are leading to burnout and driving our specialists abroad, where they can find better conditions, pay and work-life balance.

“The terms and conditions for hospital specialists must be improved if the health service is to retain NCHDs and Consultants and encourage those emigrant doctors to return to Ireland. Research has confirmed that the 2012 discriminatory cut imposed on Consultants contracted since then has been a key driver of the high rates of migration, resulting in eligible candidates who opt to emigrate rather than to apply for Consultant posts here.

“The ‘unambiguous commitment’ made by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in October 2020 to ending the salary inequity in full for all Consultants must be honoured to restore trust between the Consultant body and the health service management and tackle the deteriorating Consultant recruitment and retention crisis.

“The negotiations which are continuing between the Association and the health service management on a proposed new Consultants’ contract is a critical element in ensuring that we can recruit the number and the calibre of Consultants who are required urgently to provide timely, safe care to patients.”

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