I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. In March 2008, the HSE amended the qualifications specified for consultant posts to require membership of the specialist division of the register of medical practitioners. The register is maintained by the Medical Council. Notwithstanding that policy position, the HSE has been obliged in certain circumstances to appoint doctors who are not on the specialist division to consultant posts to ensure service delivery. There are also limited circumstances where an experienced senior doctor not on the specialist register may cover for an absent consultant to ensure the provision of care.
Importantly, any doctor who occupies a consultant post, even if he or she is not on the specialist register, would still hold a medical licence and be on a division of the Medical Council's register. The doctor would, therefore, be fully qualified to practice medicine. A total of 161 consultants have been identified working in the public health services who are not on the specialist register. Nearly a third of these were appointed prior to the change in the HSE's requirements.
The HSE has established a group to examine posts that are filled by doctors who are not on the specialist register as well as the issues of recruitment and retention challenges. It is undertaking site visits and engaging with senior management at sites and with those not on the specialist division register who occupy consultant posts. Its report and recommendations are to be finalised and will be provided to my Department next month. Once received, officials in my Department will consider the HSE's findings and recommendations, in conjunction with legal advices on the matter.
One of the areas for consideration may be, as suggested by the Deputy, mandating that patients be informed when their "treating consultant" is not on the specialist register. However, this would have to be considered having regard to the legal position and the current guidance of the Medical Council on some of these matters. Once I receive the report next month, I will be happy to brief the Deputy on its contents. His suggestion on informing patients is an issue that will be considered at that point.