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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 30 May 2000

Vol. 520 No. 1

Written Answers. - Hospital Doctors.

John McGuinness


233 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans, if any, he has to deal with the possible curtailment of anaesthetic services for elective surgery and epidurals due to the lack of manpower in this area caused by the introduction of a new assessment examination by the Medical Council and the decision not to recognise the UK assessment qualification in relation to non EU doctors; and if this situation was flagged by various health boards which were informed in writing by consultants in the respective board areas. [15257/00]

Health service employers and the Health Service Employers Agency are continuing to monitor the take up of employment offers made to non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, for 1 July 2000. The situation is likely to remain fluid for a number of weeks to come as an NCHD may have an offer of employment from more than one hospital. Hospitals are exploring all options in an effort to ensure essential posts are filled.

I am aware of difficulties in recruiting junior doctors to the specialty of anaesthesia but it is important to note that anaesthesia is mainly a consultant driven specialty and is less likely to be affected by a reduction in the number of junior doctors.

With regard to the decision of the Medical Council to introduce an examination for non EU nationals entering the health services here the medical council is an autonomous statutory body established by the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978. Its functions include registering all medical practitioners, fitness to practice and ensuring junior doctors working in our health service have received a very high standard of training and education. Its membership is made up largely of medical professionals. It is also important to note the medical council here works independently from the general medical council in Britain .

The Medical Council decided some years ago to introduce an examination for doctors outside the European Union seeking temporary registration in Ireland. Overseas doctors, EU and non EU, account for about one third of non-consultant hospital doctor posts. These doctors have played and, I am sure, will continue to play a very important role in providing a quality service in our hospitals. This assessment procedure was introduced by the Medical Council to ensure all medical trainees, both EU and non EU nationals, are of the highest standard.

The Medical Manpower Forum is addressing the issue of medical staffing in hospitals. The forum will issue its first report shortly and its recommendations will address this issue.

In the event that some junior doctor posts remain unfilled, hospitals will be asked to ensure essential and critical services are not affected. I am confident that with full co-operation from all concerned, and a degree of imagination in making the best use of available resources, the effect on services can be minimised.