On the Second Stage of this Bill, I think it would be of assistance to Senators if I give them a brief indication of the content of the Acts which this Bill proposes to amend and extend.
Up to 1927 the registration and professional supervision of medical practitioners in Ireland was undertaken by an Irish branch of the General Medical Council. The Medical Practitioners Act, 1927, provided for the establishment of a national body to carry out these functions. This body, the Medical Registration Council, consists of a representative of each of the universities and bodies awarding recognised degrees in medicine, two representatives nominated by the Government and two medical practitioners elected by doctors practising in this country.
The main functions of the council are to keep a register of medical practitioners and to satisfy themselves that the courses of study and the examinations of the colleges and bodies awarding degrees are satisfactory. The 1927 Act gives the council power to inquire into allegations of professional misconduct by medical practitioners either by holding an inquiry in this country or by acting on a report of an inquiry held by the British General Medical Council. If the council are satisfied that the allegations are proven they can remove the medical practitioner's name from the register.
To enable them to carry out their functions, the council were given power, subject to the approval of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, to recruit and pay staff. These functions of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health were later transferred to the Minister for Health.
The main purpose of the Medical Practitioners Act, 1951, was to require medical practitioners after graduation to spend a period of internship in a hospital and provide for their provisional registration during this period.
Most of the amendments to the 1927 Act proposed by the present Bill are designed to remove ministerial control over the council's activities. During the course of the Dáil proceedings it was represented to me that there was scope for a number of further amendments similar to those I had first sponsored, and I accepted most of the suggestions made. If this Bill is enacted the Minister will retain only three powers in relation to the council's activities. The first of these will be his power to amend, should it be necessary, the rules in relation to the election to the council of the two representatives of medical practitioners. Secondly his approval must be obtained to the fees to be fixed by the council for the registration of medical practitioners, and, finally, any alteration in the length of the period of internship fixed by the council under the 1951 Act will be subject to the Minister's consent.
On these three matters, I think that it is proper practice for some control to be retained by the Minister. I am sure that, in practice, the council will not find the little remaining control in any way irksome
Apart from the amendments removing ministerial control over the council, the only one which I think calls for comment at this stage is contained in sub-section (5) of Section 6. As I said earlier, the council could, under the 1927 Act, examine charges made against a medical practitioner either by holding an inquiry themselves or by acting on the report of an inquiry held by the British Medical Council. The British Medical Act of 1950 transferred the function of holding inquiries in Britain into allegations of professional misconduct from the General Medical Council to a special medical disciplinary committee of that council. As the law stands at present, the Medical Registration Council cannot take cognisance of a report of the Medical Disciplinary Committee and to enable it to do so this provision is included in this Bill. So much for the proposed amendments to the earlier Acts.
An innovation in medical registration, in so far as this country is concerned, is contained in Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill which provide, for the first time, for temporary registration of foreign medical practitioners. There is at present power to make arrangements with other countries for the permanent reciprocal recognition of medical qualifications. The procedure is slow and involves an amount of work which, except in a few cases, is not justified by the numbers likely to be affected by it. The provisions in this Bill will simplify matters considerably for foreign practitioners desiring to obtain hospital experience or to aspire to post-graduate qualifications in this country. Such practitioners will be able to register temporarily for their particular purpose. These sections have been inserted in the Bill at the request of the Medical Registration Council, whose members have practical experience of the difficulties which they are designed to obviate. I should like to make it clear that temporary registration will not entitle anyone to practise medicine generally in this country. I recommend the Bill to the Seanad for a Second Reading.