HSE official defends hiring doctors to fill consultant posts

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The deputy head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has defended hiring doctors to fill consultant posts when they are not in fact consultants.

Dean Sullivan, deputy director general of the HSE, told the joint Oireachtas health committee that, such were the difficulties filling some posts, “sometimes, we’ve no choice”.

Mr O’Sullivan said it was likely to remain an issue, but that hospitals were putting checks and balances in place, where doctors were filling consultant posts, but were not on the specialist register.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said there were “well in excess of 100 doctors”, or one in 25, who were in consultant posts but were not consultants. The High Court had described the situation as “scandalous”, he said.

Mr Donnelly asked if the HSE or Health Minister Simon Harris considered the situation acceptable, in light of the clinical risk attached.

Mr Harris said it was “sadly, not a new issue”, but he had been assured by the HSE that the numbers were declining and work was being done to regularise the positions.

Since 2008, the HSE has required that consultants be registered as specialists if working as specialists, but Mr Sullivan said, as of April 2008, 127 doctors working as consultants were not on the specialist register. He said this included 52 who related to the period pre-2008 and 75 who were post-2008.

He said the process was ongoing to identify those in a post pre-2008 who had the necessary skills, but hadn’t chosen to register and there was also a process underway to upskill those who had been appointed to positions pre-2008.

Sinn Féin spokeswoman on health Louise O’Reilly asked why there were doctors “drawing down specialist wages”, even though they were not entitled to be on the specialist register.

She also asked if someone is hired who “doesn’t have the qualifications”, should it be “on the understanding that they will get the qualifications”.

Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke said he was advised 59 consultants are expected to retire in the next 12 months but, in fact, he believed the figure to be higher.

He asked why the HSE couldn’t be more proactive about identifying upcoming retirements to kickstart a more timely recruitment process.

Mr Sullivan said: “I take your point about seeing those [retirements] coming over the hill. We should be working backwards from the retirement date.”

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