Figures obtained using the Freedom of Information Act confirm that the money was used to fund the recruitment drive vital to plug serious staff shortages in Irish hospitals.
According to the figures, during the 10-day trip in May, 36 HSE personnel — including consultants, management representatives and administrative staff — spent €113,768 on travel, food, meetings and accommodation in the Asian nations.
This cost included:
- €44,913 on accommodation and transfers to and from other locations.
- €37,866 on flights.
- €21,008 on hiring meeting rooms and business centres.
- €9,913 on meals.
The figures were obtained by trade newspaper the Medical Independent.
Responding to the figures and the fact that 36 health service personnel were able to travel on the 10-day trip, a HSE spokesman insisted that the necessary cost-saving protocols were adhered to in order to cut down on the total expense.
In particular, the spokesman said the HSE ensured only economy-class flights were paid for with taxpayers’ money, with “consultants who wished to travel business class required to meet the additional cost themselves”.
The official continued that while the HSE paid the accommodation costs, “the choice of accommodation was determined by a number of factors including security, access to a business centre and room availability”.
“In Pakistan, security concerns were paramount and the choice of hotel was driven entirely by the need to ensure the security of HSE employees,” the spokesman said.
The health service official added that events during the trip, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, also raised the level of risk and, as a result, reduced the hotel and travel options available, further increasing costs.
As part of the major junior doctor recruitment drive, which is seen as vital to plugging significant staff gaps throughout the Irish hospital system, a total of 4,000 medics from India and Pakistan applied for work in Ireland.
These applicants were responding to the HSE’s initial advertisements in the two countries.
In Pakistan, 314 doctors were interviewed and 276 follow-up meetings were held during the 10-day visit.
In India 233 interviews took place and 190 follow-up meetings took place in Mumbai during the same period.
Of these applicants, 270 candidates have been proposed for registration on the new “supervised division” of the Medical Council of Ireland’s medical register.
The HSE expects that the new doctors will be registered and able to start work in the coming weeks.