I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. In light of the issue regarding recruitment and retention of doctors, I wish to ask the Minister for Health to consider amending section 49 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, which currently limits access of trainee specialists to those who have graduated within the EU or completed a period of internship within a restricted list of countries. There are many young doctors working in this country who, despite having plenty of experience, are being blocked from accessing further training as they do not fit these restrictive criteria. These are skilled and experienced doctors that the Irish health care system badly needs to retain.
The Medical Practitioners Act 2007 states that a medical practitioner must have completed a period of internship to the satisfaction of the Medical Council to gain access to the trainee specialist division, which is fair enough. However, the Medical Council states that doctors who gained their qualification outside the EU cannot gain access to training schemes unless they have completed their internship in a restricted list of countries, namely, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the Sudan. If these doctors completed their internship in a country outside that list, they are deemed ineligible for the trainee specialist division, which is currently a requirement to apply for any of the medical training schemes. There are currently no means to remediate this. Many of these doctors have accumulated considerable experience and are working alongside and helping to train junior colleagues who are on training schemes, so there is an irony there. Any career progression for these doctors is pretty much blocked and, as a result, we are losing these doctors, who are leaving to go to jurisdictions where they can access training and upskill to progress their careers, which is obviously basic for anyone in the profession.
It was a young doctor, Dr. Sarah Barry, who brought this to my attention. She was a trainee in the midlands GP training scheme and also worked in smaller peripheral hospitals, such as the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar, Portlaoise and Tullamore, and St. Loman's psychiatric hospital in Mullingar. She has seen how reliant these smaller provincial hospitals are on doctors who have completed their medical degrees outside the EU and completed their intern foundation years outside the designated six countries.
This issue has been flagged repeatedly with the national doctors training and planning association as part of the MacCraith reviews and it has been flagged to the HSE and the Medical Council but, as yet, I am unaware of any concrete plan to rectify the situation. It appears that simply adding the words "or its equivalent" to section 49 of the Act could address the intern year issue blocking access to trainee specialist division and the intern year. Priority could be granted first to EU residents as a similar system prioritises Australian citizens for their trainee schemes. I have made my point and I am interested to hear the Minister of State's reply.