The HSE has decided to cut 18 intern doctor positions in Cork while outpatient waiting lists continue to grow.

HSE defends job cuts

The HSE has said it had never intended to sustain the 18 positions for newly-qualified international doctors created in Cork in 2020 to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The statement comes amidst significant criticism at the HSE’s decision to axe the jobs while Ireland’s healthcare system continues to be understaffed in 2021.

It is understood that 11 non-EU intern doctors at CUH, four at Bon Secours, one at Bantry General Hospital, one at Mallow General Hospital, and one at Mitchelstown General Practice all now face being let go.

Last year the HSE increased the number of new positions from 746 to 1,046 as an emergency measure in direct response to the pandemic.

Speaking to the Cork Independent, medical student and member of the Keep Our Doctors campaign group Ciarán O'Donovan said the 2020 expansion of jobs available for new interns was one of the only meaningful increases to doctors employed in Ireland in years.

The Skibbereen native said Ireland's healthcare sector was already chronically under-staffed and that the HSE’s decision reduce doctor numbers will exacerbate the problem further.

“This short-sighted decision has been made despite the mounting pressure that Covid-19 has placed on our already crumbling healthcare system,” he said.

Mr O’Donovan added that outpatient waiting lists now stand at 800,000, representing just over 15 per cent of the Irish population currently waiting on hospital based care.

According to Mr O’Donovan, the HSE’s decision may also damage Ireland’s ability to attract international students and to retain young, home-grown doctors.

“International students pay extremely high amounts of money to study here and it’s unbelievable we don’t allow them to finish their training here,” said Mr O’Donovan.

He continued: “Ireland trains more doctors per capita than anywhere else in the world, but we refuse to allow these people a fair opportunity to work in this country, despite our ever growing need for more doctors.”

Supporting the Keep Our Doctors campaign was Solidarity TD for Cork North-Central Mick Barry who called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to reverse the decision immediately.

“Our society has put a lot of resources into educating these doctors and we need to have them working here in our health service, not forcing them to emigrate and to work elsewhere,” said the deputy.

The HSE has responded to the criticism insisting that the increase in numbers was not planned and was never intended to be sustained.

In a statement, the HSE highlighted plans to invest in additional staffing in 2021 including additional workers for its Winter Plan.

“The HSE’s Winter Plan includes additional workers for the HSE across all professions. To date, this year we have recruited almost 4,700 extra staff. The national number of medical internship posts available for July 2021 has reverted to 734, which is the standard annual intake in line with current workforce planning projections,” the statement read.