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Department of Health agrees to review of intern place numbers

The Board of the Medical Intern Unit (MIU) wrote to the Department earlier this year “suggesting a review of the Fottrell report, in terms of the number of intern posts, given that it was over a decade since its publication and recognising current workforce challenges”, a Department spokesperson told MI.

“The Department met with the Board and National Doctors Training and Planning (NDTP), HSE, to discuss the correspondence on 3 August. The Department confirmed it sees considerable merit in the proposal and that it would be in order for the Board/NDTP to proceed, noting that the statutory functions of the HSE as set out in the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 include assessment of the number of intern training posts required by the health service.”

The Department spokesperson said the current method of allocating intern places was developed by the NDTP, having regard to the number of available intern places and the level of applications.

A HSE spokesperson noted that the Fottrell report was the only national policy document that set out the number of interns at 725.

According to minutes of a meeting of the Board of the MIU in January, the then NDTP Director Prof Eilis McGovern pointed out that Ireland had “reached the plateau of intern numbers as dictated by the Fottrell report (2006) and that perhaps the report could be revisited and reviewed”.

The minutes, obtained by MI following a Freedom of Information request, added: “[Prof Freddie Wood, then Medical Council President] pointed out that the Fottrell report did not consider the increasing feminisation of the medical workforce or the ageing workforce.

“[Prof Patrick Murray, then Chair of the Irish Medical Schools Council]… described the internship model as an anomaly internationally and that a more integrated approach of internship and BST [Basic Specialist Training] could increase the retention of Irish-trained doctors in Ireland.”

At a meeting of the Board in October 2017, Prof Carmel Malone, Irish Medical Schools Council, “raised a concept for discussion whereby a path would exist for equivalent intern training to be undertaken in conjunction with a postgraduate diploma as a retention measure for graduates who fail to get an intern post.”

Dr Barry O’Connell, Chair of the Intern Network Executive, indicated that the current numbers of intern posts were based on Fottrell projections, “which is an old document now.” He said “intern numbers would need to be revisited in the context of a growing population”.

The HSE’s spokesperson told MI that the correspondence to the Department “contained no mention of an equivalent path for intern training/postgrad dip”.

All CAO and EU applicants received an intern place in 2018, as well as “a number” of non-EEA applicants, the HSE said. Some 228 applicants did not receive an offer.

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