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Extra interns in 2020 ‘led to safer care’ – Keep Our Doctors Campaign

The extra interns in 2020 had a considerable impact on patient safety and healthcare efficiency, according to a paediatrics registrar who is a member of the Keep Our Doctors Campaign.

On behalf of the group, Dr Cormac Duff welcomed this morning’s announcement of an extra 120 intern places – above 2019 levels – but emphasised it was far short of the group’s goal of ensuring intern posts for all graduates of Irish medical schools who wish to commence their careers in Ireland.

Last year, due to the pandemic, the HSE announced an increase in the annual intake of medical interns from 734 to approximately 1,100. Today’s announcement by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly means there will be 854 intern places in July 2021.

Annually, around 1,200 students graduate from Irish medical schools, with approximately half being non-EU students. Due to the pre-2020 annual number of intern places available (734 in 2019) and the preference given to students who do not require a work permit, most non-EU students do not gain an intern placement upon graduation. They cannot register with the Irish Medical Council without undertaking their intern year.

The Keep Our Doctors Campaign has underlined that these doctors are familiar with the Irish healthcare system and are actively seeking opportunities to practice in this country. The group has also drawn attention to the continued pressures on the health system associated with Covid-19 and the accumulating waiting lists for non-Covid care.

“I think it’s a case of a lot done, more to do,” Dr Duff told the Medical Independent in response to Minister Donnelly’s announcement.

“Our goal is to retain the same amount of interns we have at the moment and our goal is to make sure that everyone who wants to stay in Ireland can. From that perspective, our goal is still unmet, but it is heartening that we are being listened to by the Minister and Department of Health. It is a step in the right direction.”

Dr Duff, a paediatrics registrar, has experienced first-hand the impact of extra interns in the system during the 2020/2021 year. 

Working in University Maternity Hospital Limerick when the enhanced intern cohort began in spring 2020, Dr Duff said it “helped with patient safety and patient flow as well”. He said the increased staffing for medical teams meant closer monitoring of women post-partum on the wards, shorter waiting times in the emergency department, and more efficient discharge as communication with families, GPs and social workers, for example, was arranged faster than usual.

The staffing increase “had a really positive impact on patient safety and on efficiency”.

“We are really hoping to keep our current staffing level in hospitals and give every Irish trained doctor the opportunity to commence their career in Ireland,” he said.

Dr Duff noted the high fees paid by non-EU medical students (currently upwards of €40,000 per annum) over a four-to-six-year period, to undertake medical studies in Ireland. “Non-EU students subsidise Irish students to a great extent,” said Dr Duff, who added that many incurred significant student debt.

He felt the difficulties non-EU students will face in gaining access to an internship “is something that is not particularly well-communicated” during recruitment by Irish medical schools.  

According to the Department of Health, the HSE will be undertaking a formal review of the number of intern posts to ensure places are in line with future medical workforce planning requirements. 

“As part of this review the clinical sites where additional intern posts are most needed will be considered to ensure that the current configuration provides the most efficient and educationally appropriate model. Following the review, the HSE will submit the outcome of the review to the Department of Health to consider for the July 2022 intake,” said a spokesperson.

A petition set up by the Keep Our Doctors Campaign is accessible at the following link – https://www.change.org/p/minister-stephen-donnelly-retain-300-jobs-for-newly-qualified-doctors

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