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As previously reported by this newspaper, the planned changes could include an amendment to allow the Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise (FTP) Committee to decide, in certain circumstances, if the names of witnesses or others giving evidence at FTP inquiries could be anonymised while reporting on the hearing; and an amendment to remove the requirement on doctors to establish internship equivalency to access trainee specialist registration.
A Department of Health spokesperson said amendments to the Act are contained in the Regulated Health Professions (Amendment) Bill, which is currently being drafted. “It is expected that the Bill will be published in the first half of 2018, subject to Government approval and no major issues arising. Once published, the Bill will go through the various parliamentary stages in both Houses of the Oireachtas,” stated the spokesperson.
The amendments have crept down the legislative agenda, causing particular anxiety for some non-EU doctors whose internships are not deemed equivalent to Ireland’s. Many of these doctors have worked in the health service for several years and are Members of relevant postgraduate training bodies. However, under the provisions of the Medical Practitioners Act, they cannot access training posts as their internship has not been deemed equivalent.
In November 2016, the Department indicated that amendments were due to be published in the first quarter of 2017. Previously, publication had been expected before the end of 2016, as indicated in a written parliamentary response by Minister for Health Simon Harris in June 2016.
Doctors have long been calling for reform of the Act, particularly around its FTP procedures, arguing that it is unfair to have a doctor’s name reported publically when an inquiry does not ultimately issue any findings against them.
Last year, at its AGM, the IMO called for investigation processes that protect the identity of doctors during the investigation “pending any adverse finding upon which the identity and sanction will be made public” and for FTP hearings to be held ‘in camera’.