Hospital consultants have expressed major concern about the appointment of non-specialist doctors to specialist consultant posts.
According to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), this practice is compromising patient care and safety.
The IHCA raised this issue a year ago and is now repeating these concerns, insisting that this practice ‘violates the most basic professional standards within the health services'.
It is calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to tackle this issue immediately and end the practice of appointing doctors who are not on the specialist register to work as specialist consultants within the health service.
IHCA president, Dr Tom Ryan, insisted that it is not acceptable that doctors who do not have essential specialist training, skills and expertise, are treating patients as specialist consultants.
"This compromises and undermines the quality and safety of care that is provided to patients in our hospitals. The crisis in the recruitment and retention of consultants should not and cannot be resolved at the expense of patient safety," he said.
Dr Ryan suggested that the large number of non-specialists working in specialist consultant posts, and the fact that 15% of the approved consultant posts in our acute services are unfilled on a permanent basis, should represent a ‘wakeup call' for the Government.
Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said that this issue highlights the recruitment and retention crisis in the profession, and it is now likely that there are non-specialists employed as consultants in every hospital in the country.
Both the IHCA and IMO were responding to a report in the Sunday Business Post, which stated that 650 consultants have not completed specialist training, yet continue to be hired by the HSE and private healthcare providers.
"I have huge sympathy for the individual doctors working in these roles and I have no doubt that they are doing their very best for their patients, but the numbers involved are simply unacceptable.
"This situation was entirely predictable given the difficulties which the HSE is having in attracting applicants for consultant roles and the continuing high levels of emigration among newly qualified doctors," commented IMO president, Dr Peadar Giligan.
He believes that ‘each and every member of Government must take responsibility for the decisions made to unilaterally breach contracts and introduce a two tier pay system'.
Both the IHCA and IMO pointed out that the 2008 Consultant Contract has been continually breached over the last 10 years, and the reduced salary scale introduced for new consultants hired after 2012 has had a negative effect on the country's ability to recruit consultants.
"Paying a new consultant 30% less than a colleague simply based on the date they were hired is unacceptable.
"We in the IMO have warned of the impact of cuts to consultant pay for many years now, but instead of sitting down and talking to us, the Government has chosen an adversarial route through the courts in an attempt to defend a blatant breach of contract, which has seen consultants paid less than agreed following contract negotiations. No one can express any surprise at what is now a patient care scandal," Dr Gilligan added.