Irish doctors see fewer patients than their EU counterparts

Doctors working in Ireland have far fewer patient consultations per year than the EU average, a report shows.

That’s despite there being fewer doctors employed here per head of population than the EU norm, and is contrary to the assumption that doctors would have to see a greater than average number of patients as a result.

The medical workforce analysis, carried out for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, also suggests the country has too many nurses, noting that the numbers employed here are 25% above the EU average.

According to the report, doctors, including GPs and specialists, give an average of 1,224 consultations per year, just 60% of the EU average of 2,037.

It says that “the number of consultations is just one metric by which productivity might be measured” but states the figures “would seem to suggest that Irish doctors are not being overworked”.

One possible explanation offered is the enhanced use of nurses here compared with other countries, with those qualified as advanced nurse practitioners seeing patients who in other countries may have to be seen by doctors.

However, it is pointed out that only 4% of the country’s nurses were in an advanced role and they could not be considered the equivalent of doctors, so this could not fully explain why doctors here had such relatively low consultation rates.

The figures are all the harder to understand because there are fewer doctors per head of population here than in any other country bar Slovenia and Poland — 2.69 per 1,000 people compared to an EU average of 3.33.

Those figures are curious given that Ireland produces more doctors than any other EU country, with 20 medical graduates per 100,000 of the population per year, compared to just 13 on average across the EU.

Despite the high output of new doctors, Ireland is the most reliant on overseas recruits, 36% of all doctors practicing here having been trained abroad, compared to an EU average of 12%.

Meanwhile, a survey is quoted as showing 34% of medical students intended emigrating after graduation and a further 53% contemplating leaving, while only 3% were determined to stay.

The report says “there might be very little return on our substantial investment in medical training” and notes “the logical consequence from the perspective of public expenditure is that we should train no doctors whatsoever and recruit exclusively from overseas” — although it calls that scenario “absurd”.

The report also questions the high number of nurses employed here compared to the rest of the EU — 12.64 for every 1,000 of the population compared to 9.62.

“Even allowing for advanced nursing, we ostensibly appear to be over- resourced in terms of our nurses,” it says. “Questions about their productivity and the efficient use of resources inevitably arise.”

The analysis notes that key recommendations of the 2003 report of the national task force on medical staffing, which aimed to reform the make-up of the medical workforce, had not been successfully implemented.


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