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OMI calls for ‘level playing field’

Member of the Organising Committee, Dr Shakya Bhattacharjee, an NCHD at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, told the Medical Independent (MI) that this “major issue” effectively limits career progression for many non-EU doctors in Ireland.

Under the Medical Practitioners Act, 2007, access to registration in the Trainee Specialist Division requires submission of an Irish Certificate of Experience or a document considered at least equivalent from an EU member state. Additionally, the Act allows for trainee registration of EU and third-country nationals who were granted a document in a third country — if the Council deems it at least equivalent to a Certificate of Experience.

Presently, the Council recognises internship certification equivalence from the following non-EU countries: Australia, New Zealand, Sudan, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Africa — with certain conditions applying to recognition in the latter two cases.

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Dr Shakya Bhattacharjee

A medical degree graduate of Calcutta University, India, Dr Bhattacharjee has Membership of the RCPI. However, this professional achievement does not positively alter his eligibility for a trainee post under current rules. “To be eligible for trainee specialist training, you need to have your internship recognised, and without your internship being recognised, you can never, ever even be eligible to apply for any training post in this country,” he outlined. “With all of your experience, you can never apply for a SpR scheme or any kind of training scheme in Ireland.”

Ready to talk

He continued: “The Medical Council has taken it in terms of a jurisdictional basis. We are ready to discuss this issue with the Medical Council — we want to stay and work here. We want to have a solution through dialogue.”

Dr Bhattacharjee said this would be one of the most important matters for discussion at the conference in the Hampton Hotel, Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 (12pm-4pm).

Other areas of focus will include matters around obtaining registration with the Council and issues surrounding employment permits.

As Dr Bhattacharjee noted, there is much reliance on foreign doctors within the medical workforce and the country is losing doctors. According to the most recent Medical Council workforce report, exit rates of Irish medical school graduates aged under 30 years were 6.4 per cent in 2012 and 7.9 per cent in 2013. Total numbers of doctors registered at the end of 2012 was 18,184 (down 3.3 per cent per annum) and 18,160 in 2013 (down 0.1 per cent per annum).

The percentage of international medical graduates on the Register was 34.9 per cent in 2012 and 34.3 per cent the following year. In 2013, the five leading countries of qualification for doctors who did not qualify in Ireland were Pakistan, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Sudan and India.

Some foreign doctors were also being attracted elsewhere, due to frustrations associated with lack of career progression, said Dr Bhattacharjee.

“There are some indications that the current Health Minister, Dr Leo Varadkar, is sympathetic to the plight of non-EU doctors,” he continued. “We would like to discuss the Medical Practitioners Act amendment issue with him to expedite the process and also to ensure that the best foreign talents can be retained in this country by allowing non-EU graduates to access training posts.”

He noted that regional hospitals had experienced acute shortages of doctors for some time, and this was “now spilling into the major city hospitals also”. The system needed to be made “more doctor-friendly”.

Another interesting point for debate will be the need for better representation of foreign doctors on various medical committees and sub-committees, within hospitals and at policy level. The conference will also hear that some hospital consultants from overseas had been “treated differently”.

We are ready to discuss this issue with the Medical Council — we want to stay and work here

Dr Bhattacharjee said it is “difficult to say” why foreign-born doctors appeared to be so seldom represented on committees, relative to their numbers in the medical workforce.

“Ireland has one of the highest dependences on foreign doctors in all of the OECD countries — one-third of the doctors working here are of foreign origin,” he underlined. “It may be because of the lesser integration into the medical culture; that might be one thing. But ultimately, also, all of the medical bodies need to be proactive to recruit more people to the committees. It should be proportionate.”

OMI presently has around 260 members. Chairman is Dr Bejoy Philip while Honorary Chairman is Mr Syed Altaf Naqvi.

Amicable solution

“We want an amicable solution to problems,” summarised Dr Bhattacharjee.

“We want to discuss our concerns with the authorities, so that our voices are heard, especially in the days when many Irish doctors are leaving Ireland and people are suffering because of lack of appointments, delayed appointments, cancellations, long waiting lists and a lack of doctors in various specialties.

“We want a level playing field so that competent people are not denied. We are not saying that the incompetent people should be squeezed in or fitted in to the Irish medical system — but competent people should have full access to training posts and all of these things.”

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