A & E services at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital

Statement by Dan Neville TD in relation to the the insecurity surrounding the availablity of Accident and Emergency Services at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital and similar services in A & E in hopitals throughout the State

I wish to confirm the present situation regarding the insecurity surrounding the availability of A & E services at night at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital and confirmed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD. First, this problem in the shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors or, as they are called, “junior doctors”, is not related to funding and is not related to a recruitment embargo or a moratorium. It is related to an inability to attract enough of doctors to our hospitals. It is an issue that has affected not only this country, but other countries as well.

Second, the Minister for Health is working intensively with the HSE, with his Department, with the Medical Council and a range of other bodies to try to solve this problem before 11 June -when the changeover date occurs.

In fairness, that the HSE mounted a serious recruitment campaign in India and Pakistan and several senior consultants and a number from the HSE travelled to India and Pakistan. That recruitment drive identified 400 suitable and qualified doctors who could work in Irish hospitals and who are interested in coming here. In many cases these are doctors with quite a few years of experience gained in hospitals already.

The issue is to see how best to secure these doctors to work in Ireland in a manner that will give complete assurance regarding the safety of patients and the standards that are required. The problem centres around the fact that under the present arrangements such doctors would have to do an examination that is not totally suitable and that legislation does not allow for a temporary registration facility which is the best way to accommodate incoming doctors in that regard.

While the Minister, Deputy Reilly, is currently putting in place a facility to allow the doctors to face an exam more tailored to their level of experience, he may well amend the law to provide for a temporary registration system for doctors. It is not about a moratorium, funding or an inability to recruit. It is about finding a facility that we have let slip in this country by the abolition of temporary registration and the fact that in many cases, as the Minister has pointed out, doctors required to do an examination across the entire medical spectrum might not pass such an examination. The example he has given is that someone doing surgery might be required to pass an examination on something they have not had surgical experience of for quite some time.

The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has identified this problem and the delivery of a solution to the problem is his number one priority. He is receiving every assistance from those involved. However, when speaking on RTE last night the Minister made it clear that it is unlikely he will be able to fill all the posts by 11 July given the scale and the nature of the problem he faces and he outlined what the facts are in this regard. I wish to make the point clear: it is not about recruitment inability, a moratorium or funding. It is about the fact that we do not have a temporary registration facility, which other European countries use to fill spaces at the changeover of non-consultant hospital doctors, in the way we should have.

The Minister has identified the root of the problem. There was a recruitment drive in India and Pakistan and 400 were identified. It is to have the facility now that will allow the Minister to accommodate this and the Government decided on that this morning. There will be no compromise on either quality or safety nor should there be

We cannot have a situation where doctors are employed in an unsupervised capacity in hospitals. It will be a couple of weeks before the Minister will be in a position to inform the House of that. He has identified the problem and he has identified the solution. The Government made a decision on it this. As this moves through the system and when the Minister becomes aware of which hospitals are not capable or do not have the capacity to provide a supervised setting for non-consultant hospital doctors, he will so inform the Dail However, there will be no compromise on safety or standards.