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Ireland competing in global marketplace for healthcare workers

By David Lynch - 16th Apr 2023

global marketplace

It will take time to see how the new consultant contract “plays out” in regards to recruitment and retention, the CEO of the Medical Council told the Medical Independent (MI).

Mr Leo Kearns was part of a panel of speakers who addressed the issue of medical workforce planning on the opening night of the IMO AGM in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Asked whether the new contract would impact workforce planning, Mr Kearns noted that the Medical Council was not involved in contractual matters.

“But I do think it is important that there is a contract and it is important that it is a contract that people feel they can take on,” he told MI.

“I think we just have to wait and see how that plays out. There is no doubt that we are in a global marketplace for all healthcare workers, but particularly for doctors and nurses. So therefore, we have got to look at all of those things that are going to influence people to make a decision [where they will work].

“A contract is definitely one of those, but there are other issues as well. It is not just about the contract, and all the evidence is telling us that it is about people feeling valued for the work they are doing, feeling that they can do the work that they want to do as doctors, to look after patients well and so on.”

During his address to the AGM, Mr Kearns highlighted the growth in the general division of the Medical Council’s register and concerns over continued non-compliance with the European Working
Time Directive.

However, Mr Kearns told MI he believed there is now greater “recognition” of workforce planning challenges “at the highest levels and at all levels throughout the health service”.

Also speaking as part of the panel, Dr Syeda Amna Azim, an NCHD working in University Hospital Limerick, highlighted the ongoing training and working difficulties faced by international doctors.

Dr Azim noted the high number of international doctors on the general division. “There is no [career] progression in that division,” she added.

“So when they spend six, seven years in the general division, and they have no progression, obviously some will move to other countries such as the UK.” 

Fellow panellist Dr Madeleine Ní Dhálaigh, a GP in Co Roscommon, said the “feminisation of general practice” had been a “really positive development”. However, Dr Ní Dhálaigh raised concerns “that it is something that we haven’t really planned for properly”.

She said with an increasing number of female GPs who had childcare and other responsibilities, general practice would need to adapt to “realise that a work/ life balance is important”.

While Dr Ní Dhálaigh praised the growing number of GP training posts over the last seven years, she said the increase was “still not enough”, particularly in light of the large number of GPs expected to retire in the coming years.

Prof Anthony O’Connor, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Tallaght University Hospital, asked whether it was time to “go back and ask our employers, the health service, ‘what have you done about the simple things?’”

“‘What progress have you made on less-than full-time work? What progress have you made on remote working? What progress have you made on diversity? What progress have you made on the salary issues affecting consultants and other grades of doctors as well?’”

Prof O’Connor said: “We have known about these things for years. We have Government reports gathering dust, and we still haven’t addressed them. We know all these sorts of things are barriers to recruitment and workforce planning.”

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