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Growth in registered specialists welcomed by Medical Council

The “continued growth” of doctors registered in the specialist division in 2019 has been welcomed by the Medical Council, in the context of “a shortage of consultants”.

The Council’s annual report for 2019, published today, showed there were 10,923 doctors registered in the specialist division, up from 9,577 the previous year.

Medical representative bodies have consistently warned that Ireland has a low number of specialists for the population, compared with many other jurisdictions. There are around 500 vacant permanent consultant posts, with working conditions and pay inequality for new-entrant consultants cited by representative bodies as contributory factors.

Speaking today, Medical Council CEO Mr Philip Brady said: “We welcome the continued growth in the specialist register again in 2019. Doctors with specialist registration may practise independently, without supervision and may represent themselves as specialists, usually employed in consultant roles.

“The specialist register is growing faster than other registers, with the trainee specialist register also growing, increasing by over 168 doctors on the previous two years. This is a very welcome development for a health service which has a shortage of consultants.”

Other highlights from the annual report include:

  • 23,555 doctors were on the medical register – up from 22,996 in 2018
  • 56.6 per cent of registered doctors were male while 43.4 per cent were female
  • 36 per cent of doctors were aged 35 or under
  • 59 per cent of registered doctors received their primary medical qualification in Ireland; 14 per cent from another EU/EEA country; and 27 per cent from another country
  • 431 complaints were received about doctors

Mr Brady added: “An issue that remained in 2019, and into this year, is the barrier to non-EU/EEA doctors in accessing specialist training. These doctors, who have played a pivotal role working in Irish hospitals for years, are a key part of our health service, yet have not been allowed to progress in their careers due to legislative shortcomings.

“Thankfully, this issue will be addressed in new legislation, the Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2019, which is due to complete its progress through the Oireachtas in the next week.”

The Council CEO also described research as vital for workforce planning and in ensuring training experiences are meeting standards and expectations.

“Again in 2019, the Medical Council published its detailed Medical Workforce Intelligence Report, a key annual study providing essential information and intelligence as to the make-up of the medical workforce and why doctors remain within or depart from the Irish health system. This report was also presented to the Oireachtas Committee on Health.

“The Council also published Your Training Counts, a national trainee experience survey, conducted each year by the Medical Council, documenting the experiences of trainee doctors and interns in the Irish healthcare system. It examines the clinical learning environments, working conditions, experiences of bullying, retention and career plans, and health and wellbeing of doctors on training schemes.”

“Our role in education and training saw the publications of reports on clinical training sites inspections on two hospital groups – Dublin Midlands Hospital and the National Children’s Hospital Group – which involved ten clinical training sites being inspected as part of the Medical Council’s quality assurance role in medical education and training.

“It is reassuring that having met with hospital group management and inspected the educational facilities on site, that the sites were not found to be non-compliant in any area, with either full or partial compliance in all areas. However, concerns continue to exist regarding access to protected training time for trainees due to staffing shortages.”

On continuous professional development, Mr Brady said this was “very important for all careers, and especially for doctors”.

In 2019, the Medical Council conducted an independent review of the maintenance of professional competence model in collaboration with postgraduate training bodies, employers, indemnifiers, HSE National Doctors Training and Planning, and the Department of Health.

Complaints against doctors rose again in 2019, with the Medical Council receiving 431 new complaints, a record number for the preliminary proceedings committee in a calendar year.

The number of practitioners complained of stood at 485. With a total of 23,555 doctors registered with the Council, this stands at around 2 per cent of all doctors being complained of, which is consistent with previous years. Of those doctors, 333 were male, and most were on the specialist division.

Meanwhile, acknowledging the challenges of Covid-19, President of the Medical Council Dr Rita Doyle said: “It is obvious to us all that we are in a very different world this year than we were in 2019 with the onset of Covid-19 globally.

“As a health service, the challenges we faced in 2019 have been further highlighted this year, however significant progress has been made on a number of fronts and I highly commend the work of our public health teams and all doctors around the country.”

“The increase in numbers of the specialist register in 2019 is most welcome. To qualify for the specialist register doctors must have undertaken very high levels of training and as such an increase in these numbers can only serve to benefit the standards in Irish healthcare.

“It is also very positive to see an increase in the number of female doctors registered with the Medical Council, which has gone some way towards achieving gender balance in Irish medicine. I hope that adequate supports will be put in place by employers to encourage this trend to continue.

“Throughout 2019, the Medical Council continued to issue guidance on many issues such as prescribing practises, the prescription of benzodiazepines and issued an updated edition of its Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners, which contains revised guidance for doctors following the enactment of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.

“My message to doctors across Ireland, who have had a very challenging year to date, is to once again commend you for your hard work. As we enter an extremely busy winter period, I want to remind you of your ethical responsibility to look after your own wellbeing and ensure you are getting rest, eating well, exercising and spending time relaxing. Your own wellbeing will be of benefit to those patients you serve and the wider community.” concluded Dr Doyle.

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