How HSE red tape means 180 doctors twiddle their thumbs while we pay
If it weren't so serious it would almost be funny.
But this is Ireland's health service in 2011, and things are getting very serious indeed as hospitals head into the winter.
Hundreds of patients who cannot get a hospital bed lying on trolleys every day, and the trolley numbers are increasing at an alarming rate.
Yet the taxpayer is forking out thousands of euro to house badly needed doctors from overseas in bed and breakfasts while the hospital service cries out for them to be treating patients.
Why do we have regular shortages of junior doctors. And why do we rely so much on doctors from other countries to fill gaps in the service? Surely we train enough of our own?
The simple fact is that many Irish-trained doctors look at the options here and vote with their feet. Let's face it, many Irish hospitals must be stressful and chaotic places for trainee doctors to work in.
Junior doctors say they can get better paid and better training in place such as Australia and Canada.
Right now, in many hospitals there aren't enough junior doctors on the wards, and many doctors are having to work longer hours to fill the gaps.
Most of the junior doctors cooling their heels in B&Bs are apparently properly qualified and skilled, and ready and willing to work here. However, their job applications have been held up by red tape.
It is quite difficult for non-EU doctors from India and Pakistan, many of them highly skilled, to qualify for posts in Ireland.
Earlier this summer we were told that the recruitment process for doctors from India and Pakistan was being speeded up to enable them to fill vacancies in our hospitals.
If this is a speeded-up process, we'd hate to see a slowed-down one.
But weren't we told this mess would be sorted out? Of course we were. But there's often a huge gap between what is promised and what actually happens in our health service.
We were told by Health Minister James Reilly and the HSE that current regulations, systems and legislation would be changed to make it easier for doctors from India and Pakistan to fill hospital posts.
It was promised that as the summer progressed, these doctors would come on stream and the staffing crisis would be eased. Some of the red tape has apparently been removed, but problems remain. Yet we are now told just 60 of the 280 doctors recruited to work here to help the hospital manpower crisis have been given the go-ahead to work.
The whole process has got bogged down in old-style Irish health service bureaucracy.
There have been delays in the HSE providing relevant documentation, and the Medical Council has apparently made changes to requirements, among other things.
Sure, the process is complex. But surely there should be some joined-up thinking here. Surely this vital recruitment process could have been better planned and better organised. Surely the organisations involved could have worked in a more co-ordinated way to ease the recruitment process.
After all, it was known that there would be a junior doctor shortage since early this year. There was also a major junior doctor shortfall last summer. Did the health authorities not learn any lessons from this?
But there is a far bigger crisis out there.
Our health service is too reliant on inexperienced trainee doctors to provide frontline care. We need more consultants and more senior trainee doctors providing frontline care. We need more care shifted out of hospitals and into the community to take the pressure off them. We have been promised for years that this will happen, but again, progress is slow.
Niall Hunter is Editor of irishhealth.com