Call to ensure recruitment process identifies unsuitable doctors

Recruitment processes must be strong enough to ensure under-qualified or unsuitable doctors are not practising in the health system and putting patients at risk, a patients’ advocacy group has urged.

Stephen McMahon from the Irish Patients Association said deficiencies in the HSE’s recruitment process highlighted by the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, must be heeded. Mr Justice Kelly granted a suspension order sought by the Medical Council to stop a junior doctor from practising in Ireland.

Just days after starting work in a hospital maternity unit, other doctors raised serious concerns that he lacked basic medical competency and was a danger to patients. The doctor, who graduated from medical school in an East European country in 2015, was never taught how to examine a pregnant woman.

Mr Justice Kelly said such employment was not “isolated”. He had encountered other cases where registered medical practitioners with little knowledge of the basics of medicines were recruited to work in Irish hospitals.

The judge wondered how the interview panel could have awarded the doctor 55 out of 100 marks for clinical, medical, and diagnostic skills when it was obvious that they were lacking when he started work.

Mr Justice Kelly said the doctor was recruited despite never being registered to practice in the country he received his medical degree nor in his native country.

The application for the order was heard and granted in private last month, but on Wednesday the judge directed his judgment be made public on condition that the doctor was not identified.

Mr McMahon said the case showed that the HSE’s recruitment process had failed to protect patients.

“We want to ensure that the system is robust; that you won’t have under-qualified or inappropriate doctors in our healthcare system who will put patients at risk,” he said.

Health Minister Simon Harris wrote to the HSE’s director general, John Connaghan, yesterday evening seeking an urgent response to Mr Justice Kelly’s judgment.

The HSE is undertaking a review of the recruitment process and intends introducing a revised model next year. Mr Harris has now asked for the review to be progressed “expeditiously” and implemented as soon as possible.

The Medical Council said it would not be commenting on the case, as the doctor involved was part of an ongoing regulatory process.

The suspension order was sought by the council to protect the public and applies pending a fitness to practice inquiry into complaints by two obstetricians about the doctor’s practice.

However, the council shared the concerns raised by Mr Justice Kelly in relation to the recruitment of junior doctors with the appropriate levels of experience and qualifications.

“We have expressed our concerns to the HSE and medical recruitment companies in the past,” the council said.

The council has no role in the employment of doctors. If a doctor is on the register, it does not mean they are suitable for every role.

“It rests with employers to determine the suitability of a doctor to fulfil the requirements of a post and to ensure that they are supported and appropriately supervised in their role,” the council pointed out.

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