Irish hospitals face a shortage of doctors because new visa arrangements are deterring non-EU doctors from coming to Ireland, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned.
The doctors’ organisation, which will hold its annual general meeting in Kerry from tomorrow, has written to the Department of Justice seeking changes to visa arrangements introduced last July.
Since then, doctors wanting to work in Ireland must have their visa renewed with every new contract of employment. Previously, it was standard practice to issue and renew visas for two-year periods.
Dr Chris Luke, consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital, said ‘‘a perfect storm’’ was brewing and expressed concern that emergency departments would be forced to close due to staff shortages.
The situation is expected to worsen in the second half of the year when the Health Service Executive fully implements shorter working hours for doctors and hospital funding deteriorates.
The IMO said the changed legislation was particularly difficult on non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) or junior doctors, whose contracts are usually issued for six-month periods.
An audit carried out by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland found that non-EU doctors accounted for more than half of all NCHDs working in Irish hospitals.
In its submission to the Department of Justice, the IMO proposed a reversion to the previous arrangement, or a system whereby non-EU doctors working in Ireland would be given two-year visas after they had worked in the country for a year.
Shirley Coulter, senior industrial relations executive with the IMO, said non-EU doctors were critical to the Irish health system and should be incentivised to work here.
The IMO said there was evidence of a significant fall in the number of applications for NCHD posts that began on January this year, ‘‘with a large number of doctors either not choosing to come to Ireland or leaving here to work in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the USA’’.
Consultants across the country have reported shortages of hospital doctors in different specialities, with emergency medicine particularly badly affected.