Over 80 per cent of trainee doctors have said that working conditions, training opportunities, and work-life balance are factors that would influence their decision to leave Ireland.
Almost one fifth of the 523 doctors who responded to a survey had already left Ireland between 2014 and 2016 to practise medicine abroad, while more than a fifth (22 per cent) of those in Ireland responded that they would definitely or probably leave (22 per cent were undecided and 18 per cent claimed that they were definitely staying).
Among doctors who were undertaking or who had recently completed postgraduate training, 72 per cent believed that they needed to spend time training abroad to compete for consultant posts in Ireland.
More than 80 per cent also considered working conditions and training opportunities to be better abroad.
The lead of the sudy, Professor Ruairi Brugha, cautioned: “The chronic haemorrhage of doctors from Ireland will continue as long as we undervalue them.
“Unless sufficient resources are invested in providing specialist training to the doctors after they have graduated medical school, employing them in adequately staffed hospitals with comparable training and working conditions to what are on offer in other countries, we will continue to lose those who are the life blood of our health system”.
Fifty of the surveyed doctors also took part in an in-depth interview, where they discussed the stresses they experienced in making decisions about patients without sufficient access to consultants.
The trainee doctors criticised poor structure in training in under-staffed hospitals; the demands of delivering a service to patients outweighing their personal training needs.
An example of this was a case involving Dr Michael Dowling, a surgical intern at St James’s Hospital, which received some publicity over the course of the summer.
Mr Dowling had been covering six wards, with an estimated 25 patients in each, one night after working from 8am-5pm the previous day.
He had some concerns that one of his patients was suffering from a haematoma following a thyroidectomy and was forced to contact and send his ENT registrar on-call images of the patient and a chest x-ray over the phone because she was not on-site.
The patient died a few hours later and there was an inquiry at Dublin Coroner’s Court, which at the time Mr Dowling admitted had left him feeling very exposed.
Data collected from the survey and the interviews indicate that insufficient frontline staff in Irish hospitals, which was reported by over 80 per cent as a reason for leaving Ireland, was affecting doctors’ need for supervised training.
A report published earlier this year by the RCSI’s Health Workforce Research Group stated that Ireland now produces sufficient medical graduates to meet its needs.
However, our inability to retain doctors means that we have to recruit internationally.
In 2015, two thirds of those taking up medical registration in Ireland for the first time had graduated outside of Ireland, with a doubling of the numbers coming from outside the European Union.
Most of these were being employed to fill non-training posts, the numbers of which had risen at a four times greater rate than training posts.
This study, conducted by the RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland), has been published in the Human Resources for Health journal.