Doctor who never treated a patient got generous marks for 'medical skills'

A medic who was employed as a junior doctor in a busy maternity hospital received generous marks of 55 out of 100 for clinical medical and diagnostic skills at his job interview – despite having no experience of treating patients.

The case of the EU-trained doctor, employed as a senior house officer in the hospital, has again raised serious concerns about gaps in recruitment procedures which allow medics with sub-standard skills to slip through, putting patients at risk.

Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday said he had written to the HSE, seeking an urgent response to the comments by High Court Judge Peter Kelly of “an obvious danger to patients” as he granted an order suspending the doctor.

Mr Justice Kelly wondered how the interview panel concluded the doctor was “short on experience” when actually he had “none at all”.

Mr Harris said he has now asked the HSE to expedite a review of recruitment procedures.

The doctor whose case came up this week was turned down for other posts in hospitals because of lack of experience, and had only ever been an “observer”. But he ended up getting 195 out of 325 possible marks in the interview. Within days, senior doctors became alarmed that he “lacked basic competencies”.

The Medical Council, which regulates doctors and sought the suspension order, said yesterday it could not comment on this specific case.

However, a spokesman said: “The Medical Council shares the concerns raised by Justice Kelly in relation to recruitment of junior doctors with the appropriate levels of experience and qualifications, and we have expressed our concerns to the HSE and medical recruitment companies in the past.”

He said if a doctor is registered, it does not mean they are suitable for every role. “It rests with employers to determine the suitability of a doctor to fulfil the requirements of a post, and to ensure that they are supported and appropriately supervised in their role.”

Due to free movement rules, the same test of knowledge and clinical skills is not required of EU-trained doctors as medics from outside the EU who want to be registered.

Questioned on what kind of safeguards it has in place, the HSE said that recruitment of junior doctors is conducted through the hospitals.

If a candidate reaches the shortlisted stage, they should be “reviewed to ensure that they meet the eligibility criteria for the post” and interviewed by a three-person board. “Each candidate is examined on the core competencies and skills as outlined in the job specification.”

The HSE is currently reviewing its recruitment model “to ensure that it meets the needs of the global competition for talent, together with the future requirements for Sláintecare and ensure compliance with its statutory obligations but also ensuring best practice in its appointment process”.

Asked to comment on the pressures faced by hospitals desperate for medical cover, Dr John Duddy, of the Irish Medical Organisation, said that some hospitals can be desperate to fill senior house office posts. There are particular problems finding these doctors in the area of obstetrics, surgery, anaesthesia and orthopaedics, said Dr Duddy, a trainee neurosurgeon in Cork.

The doctors may have the “bare minimum qualifications” on paper, he said. “So many hospitals are depending on doctors in non-training posts to meet staff rotas and keep the hospital running.” A proper induction programme would attract better doctors, he said.

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