'Small hospitals badly hit by doc shortage'

Specialties in some small-to-medium sized hospitals around the country are badly hit by the current shortage of junior doctors, with the system currently short nearly 300 doctors, according to the HSE.

HSE CEO Prof Brendan Drumm, in a recent briefing paper to the HSE board, admitted that an international recruitment drive to deal with the doctor shortage to had only led to 15 additional doctors being put in place from July 1.

He said these vacancies were disproportionately located in small-to-medium sized hospitals and were concentrated in six specialties - emergency medicine, anaesthesia, general surgery, orthopaedics, general medicine, and paediatric.

"In those hospitals experiencing NCHD (junior doctor) staffing difficulties, this represents significant and unprecedented vacancy rates in certain specialties and sub-specialties," Prof Drumm said.

He said the most significant area impacted was the north-east, where there had been the recent closure of emergency medicine in Dundalk and the movement of services to Drogheda.

The reasons given for the shortage of hospital doctor posts include visa problems, cuts in overtime pay, and lack of proper training opportunities in some smaller hospitals. Prior to July, it had been predicted that there could be as many as 600 unfilled junior doctor posts.

The HSE says it has been implementing a number of measures designed to deal with the doctor shortage in hospitals, including changes in visa and employment arrangements, sourcing doctors from outside Ireland, offering longer periods where hospital posts are not designated as training posts.

In addition, Brendan Drumm said the HSE was "ensuring service reconfiguration is in line with changes in the junior doctor workforce, including changes to ED opening times, ambulance bypass and management of acute admissions."

The CEO's report added that hospitals have also obtained short-term locum doctors for short periods in a number o9f critical settings.

However, he warned that once these contracts terminate the vacancy issue is likely to re-emerge in these hospitals.

The CEO's report also warned that the cost of hiring agency junior doctors needed to ensure continuity of services was impacting on the HSE's current budgetary pressures.

A HSE spokesman told irishhealth.com the health executive's contingency plans to deal with the doctor shortage were subject to daily review.

The HSE's priority is to maintain patient services throughout this period, he said.

According to the HSE, on July 28, approximately 260 of 4,638 junior doctor posts were vacant.

[Posted: Thu 12/08/2010]

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