Dáil Éireann - Volume 522 - 28 June, 2000
Written Answers. - Consultant Appointments.
Ms McManus Ms McManus
28. Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans he has to tackle the serious medical manpower crisis in our hospitals; if he will give the number of consultant vacancies in hospitals; the steps planned to fill these; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18529/00]
Mr. Martin Mr. Martin
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The staffing requirements of hospitals and the deployment of staff within hospitals is a matter for local management having regard to the services which hospitals are expected to provide. There are particular staffing difficulties being faced by the health services at present across a wide range of areas, particularly in the medical, paramedical and nursing areas.
Action is being taken on a number of fronts to address these difficulties. However in relation to the medical staffing of hospitals, the issues are currently being addressed by the Medical Manpower Forum. With particular regard to non-consultant hospital doctors the forum is seeking to redress the imbalance between career posts and training posts, the need to improve postgraduate medical training to keep more Irish medical graduates in the country, and the need to look at the position of women in medicine in Ireland with a view to redressing the number who leave medicine. The Medical Manpower Forum is due to publish its first report shortly.
The number of consultant posts is regulated by Comhairle na nOspideal. According to Comhairle na nOspideal, the consultant establishment on 1 January 2000 was 1440. There were 147 vacant approved posts on this date. However, a post approved by Comhairle na nOspideal is classified as vacant until an appointee takes up duty in a permanent capacity. However, in most cases replacement posts are filled by locums until the permanent appointee is installed. In relation to the filling of new consultant posts, I have recently received and accepted the recommendations of a working group established to speed up the appointment process, i.e. the time it takes from initial approval to putting a consultant in place.
Health service employers and the Health Service Employers Agency are continuing to monitor the take-up of employment offers made to non-consultant hospital doctors for 1 July 2000. The situation is likely to remain fluid until then  as an NCHD may have an offer of employment from more than one hospital. Accordingly, I am not at this time in a position to give a precise figure of the number of vacant posts on the 1 July other than to say that about 100 of the approximately 3000 posts may remain unfilled. Hospitals are exploring different options in an effort to ensure that essential posts are filled. In the event that some posts remain unfilled, hospitals will be asked to ensure that essential and critical services are not affected. With the full co-operation from all concerned, and a commitment to making the best use of available resources, the effect on services can be minimised.
As I have said, while the primary responsibility for the staffing of hospitals rests with hospital management, I am seeking the co-operation of the Opposition in amending the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978, to extend the period of temporary registration for NCHDs from five years to seven years. This will remove an obstacle for some NCHDs and allow them to remain and work in Ireland.
Dáil Éireann 522 Written Answers. Consultant Appointments.