Hospitals appointing under-qualified doctors to specialist positions

The IHCA has warned that patient safety is being compromised by the appointment of under-qualified consultants

An increasing number of highly skilled consultant positions in Irish hospitals are being filled by doctors who do not have the required specialist training, it has been claimed.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has expressed its “serious concern” that doctors who are not eligible to be on the Medical Council’s Specialist Register are being appointed to temporary consultant positions.

The group’s president Dr Tom Ryan said the practice “violates the most basic professional standards within the public health services” and insisted it must be stopped immediately.

“It is not acceptable that doctors who do not have the essential specialist training, skills and expertise are treating patients as consultants in our acute health services,” he said.

“This compromises and undermines the quality and safety of care that is provided to patients in our hospitals.”

The IHCA has called on the government to publish details of how many consultant posts have been filled by under-qualified doctors – warning that the practice is “in breach of the basic requirements for filling consultant posts.”

Compromising patient safety

Sinn Féin spokesperson on health, Louise O’Reilly warned that the practice is “seriously compromising patient care and safety and needs to immediately rectified.”

“The root cause of this issue is again a staffing issue which is once more linked to the underfunding and mismanagement of our health service, uncompetitive pay rates and extremely stressful and difficult working conditions,” she said.

“It is no way acceptable that doctors who do not have the requisite specialist training should be treating patients as consultants in our acute health services.

“It is neither acceptable to patients and their families, and it is not acceptable or fair to those doctors or other healthcare staff in our hospitals.”

Recruitment and retention

Dr Ryan warned that the crisis in the recruitment and retention of consultants “cannot be resolved at the expense of patient safety.”

It comes after the Public Service Pay Commission last week acknowledged that pay constraints affecting “specialist and scarce skills areas” of the public service may need to be reconsidered when negotiations begin on a new public sector pay agreement.

The report found that there are “problems in the case of some specifi­c and specialist groups across the public service.”

“This includes those groups that are internationally in demand, particularly in the health sector,” it said.

Dr Ryan said the commission had received “irrefutable evidence” that the Irish health service has become uncompetitive in terms of attracting the required number of trained consultants.

He warned that 15% of the permanent consultant posts in acute Irish hospitals are unfilled – with hospitals “paying multiples of the official salaries for temporary and agency consultants.”  

He said it is “abundantly clear” that salary cuts imposed on consultants in 2009 as part of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest act (FEMPI) must now be reversed.

Talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement are set to get underway in the coming weeks.