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Brexit 'anomaly' is stopping medical students in Northern Ireland from doing internships in Ireland

“I applied to study in Northern Ireland on the basis that I would have no issues in Ireland,” one student said.

Image: Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

MEDICAL STUDENTS IN universities in Northern Ireland and Great Britain cannot apply for internships in Irish hospitals due to Brexit – an anomaly that the Department of Health is hoping to fix by the end of the year.

The situation means that that there are students from Ireland who are studying in universities in Northern Ireland who will not be able to apply for internships in the Irish healthcare service, as the rules stand now.

Medical students who wish to work within the Irish health service after graduating need to apply for internships within the healthcare system in their final year or after they graduate in order to gain the required Certificate of Experience. 

However, those applying for these internships must be a graduate or a final year student of a medical school from a specific list of countries.

These include Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Iceland or the RCSI and UCD Malaysia Campus.

Although last year Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom were listed as jurisdictions from which you could apply, this year both have been removed from the list.

HSE Source: HSE

A first-year student from Dublin who is studying at Ulster University told The Journal: “It will affect any students who may have graduated last year from Queen’s [University], but also may affect the applications of students applying from the Republic of Ireland.

“I applied to study in Northern Ireland on the basis that I would have no issues in Ireland. They need to get that changed fast,” she said.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris visited Ulster University’s Magee Campus and its newly opened medical school in December; he said on Twitter that there was a “need to work together in the North West to enhance access to education and development of research and campuses”.

In response to a query from The Journal, the Department of Health said in a statement: “Eligibility for access to medical intern training posts is set out in the Medical Practitioners Act 2007.

As a consequence of Brexit, the Act currently precludes graduates from UK medical schools from applying for intern positions in Ireland.
Officials from the Department have been engaging with the Medical Council to establish the required changes to the Act to revert to the pre-Brexit position.

“Significant progress has been made and the Minister [for Health Stephen Donnelly] will soon be seeking Government approval to draft the legislation necessary to amend the Medical Practitioners Act. It is expected that this will be enacted later this year.”

  • SPECIALIST CARE: Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to investigate if we are looking after our intern doctors and specialist trainees. Support this project here.

In a statement to The Journal, the Medical Council said that in order to apply for an intern post, a doctor must be eligible to apply for internship registration and that internships can be granted to doctors who have completed their medical studies either here in Ireland or an EU member state. 

The Medical Council said that “since the UK has left the European Union, it is considered a third country and graduates of medical schools there no longer fulfill the requirement set out in section 49 to have completed their medical degree in an EU member state, for the purpose of applying for internship registration”.

As this situation has come to light, the Medical Council has been in discussions with the Department of Health to explore the options.

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An EU directive on professional qualifications allowed EU and UK to recognise professional qualifications in each other’s jurisdictions, including health qualifications. This directive no longer applies to the UK, with exceptions made for professionals already recognised by authorities before 31 December 2020.

In April last year, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said that a working group was set up in late 2019, chaired by an official from his Department to ask ask several departments to be sure that its regulators put processes in place to ensure that Irish and UK professionals could continue to have their qualifications recognised.

Irish and UK regulators adopted varying approaches based on what worked best, he said.

“Some, like engineers for example, put a memorandum of understanding in place while others such as the Teaching Council and Medical Council adjusted their third country qualification recognition policies… It was not possible to do everything by administrative arrangements. It required legislative change in some areas.”

When the Department of Higher Education was contacted, it advised that this was a matter for the Department of Health.

A statement from the Medical Council was added to this article at 8.30am on 24 January.

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