Quality of our health service - Time to be smarter with brain drain

FOR decades, our medical graduates have gone abroad to gain international experience, with the intention of eventually returning to Ireland to live and work here.

Inevitably, we lost a small number of those to health services elsewhere, those who decided to stay abroad for personal or other reasons.

But, for the most part, they returned and, with their international experience and expertise, enhanced the Irish health service.

Working abroad was not just good for them, but for the nation, as they brought fresh perspectives and thinking to the health service here.

Now, however, the situation has changed dramatically. As our report today reveals, a growing number of hospital doctors and medical practitioners are staying abroad.

Why? According to Dr Sam Coulter Smith, retiring master of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, the Irish health service is now so diminished and impoverished that it has little to offer.

The result of the brain drain has been a ‘dumbing down’ of the quality of doctors, and the situation has become particularly acute over the past two years.

His words are not intended to offend those excellent doctors who practise here, but without the ability to attract back those medical practitioners who have international experience, our health service will inevitably suffer.

Dr Coulter Smith’s expertise is obstetrics and he has seen, at first-hand, how the brain drain affected that area of medicine, but there is no reason to think that it might not be equally affecting other specialities, as well.

Most worrying of all, as he observes, is that while major hospitals like the Rotunda retain some hope of attracting back doctors from abroad, smaller hospitals outside Dublin, in cities like Cork, Limerick and Waterford, have little hope of doing so.

While the cynical might think that it has all to do with money, that is not necessarily the case.

An appealing salary is, of course, an important element in attracting the brightest and the best, but so too are conditions of employment, proper professional support, the ability to conduct research and, most importantly, the time and focus to enhance specialist skills learned abroad.

It is little wonder, then, that when the HSE advertised for a foetal-medicine specialist, it did not receive a single application for the post.

Dr Coulter Smith is a serious and respected doctor and has an international reputation. His words may grate in certain quarters, but it is essential that they be taken seriously and get the respect and response they deserve.

We all owe him a debt of gratitude for telling it like it is, no matter how uncomfortable that may make some of us.

Without recognising that a problem exists, we will have little chance of fixing it.

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