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Doctors’ training experience in Northern Ireland is positive, GMC finds

Press Release

24 Oct 2017

Medical students and doctors in training in Northern Ireland have told the GMC that their learning environment is a supportive and positive one, with senior colleagues playing a vital role in shaping the next generation of doctors.

There are more than 1,800 doctors in training in Northern Ireland, contributing significantly to the medical workforce and vital to the provision of frontline healthcare.

Dr Colin Melville, the GMC’s Director of Education and Standards

During its review of medical education and training in the country, published today (Tuesday 24 October) the GMC spoke to doctors in training at all five health and social care trusts across a range of specialties, as well as to medical students at Queen’s University.

The GMC also visited the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA), which manages postgraduate medical training.

Overall, inspectors found the standard of training experienced by doctors in Northern Ireland to be a ‘positive one’ and most felt ‘well supervised, supported and enjoyed the experience they gained on clinical placements’.

And in the Belfast and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trusts, clinical supervision, including out of hours, is working well with GP trainers providing one-to-one supervision for doctors in training.

Doctors in trauma and orthopaedic surgery at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust praised consultants who go ‘above and beyond’ to ensure they receive the right level of training.

There was also evidence of initiatives to support doctors in training, such as the VALUED strategy, developed and delivered by NIMDTA, which consists of programmes and mentoring schemes to attract, develop and support trainees in Northern Ireland.

However some areas of concern were highlighted during the GMC’s visits, including:

  • Doctors at South West Acute Hospital said they were left in situations without supervision from senior colleagues during out of hours and, while consultants were happy to be called, there was no formal process for this.
  •  At Craigavon Hospital doctors in only their second year of training were sometimes asked to be responsible for the emergency pager when more senior colleagues weren’t available.
  • At Antrim Area Hospital it was said that a small number of consultants in general surgery had displayed unprofessional behaviour, including potential gender discrimination against female trainees.

All the issues have been raised with the trusts involved, and they are taking action to rectify them.

Dr Colin Melville, the GMC’s Director of Education and Standards, said:

‘There are more than 1,800 doctors in training in Northern Ireland, contributing significantly to the medical workforce and vital to the provision of frontline healthcare. But they are in a live learning environment, and we must ensure they receive the full levels of support they need.

‘We identified a few concerns where this has not been the case in Northern Ireland but the trusts involved have responded positively and are taking action to rectify matters.

‘We recognise the pressure frontline care is under, and that it can have a damaging impact on medical education. Northern Ireland is no different to anywhere else in the UK in that respect, and it is vitally important that patient safety is protected by ensuring training continues to be delivered to the highest standard.

‘So although we identified a small number of concerns, overall we were pleased at the high standards and commitment across the country.’

Following its visits to Northern Ireland, the GMC has set requirements and recommendations for each organisation, detailed in its visit reports. They will report back to the GMC on progress.

The GMC regulates all stages of doctors' training and professional development in Northern Ireland, and this review was part of a series of planned scheduled visits across the UK.

The visits allow the GMC to assess the quality of both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and training against the rigorous standards it sets.    

Notes to editors

For its National review of medical education and training in Northern Ireland, the GMC visited all five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland (Belfast, Northern, South Eastern, Southern and Western), as well as Queen’s University Belfast School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, and the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency.

The General Medical Council (GMC) is an independent organisation that helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK.

  • We decide which doctors are qualified to work here and we oversee UK medical education and training.
  • We set the standards that doctors need to follow, and make sure that they continue to meet these standards throughout their careers.
  • We take action when we believe a doctor may be putting the safety of patients, or the public's confidence in doctors, at risk.

We are not here to protect doctors - their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect the public.

We are independent of government and the medical profession and accountable to Parliament. Our powers are given to us by Parliament through the Medical Act 1983.

We are a registered charity (number 1089278 with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, and number SC037750 with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator), we have to show that our aims are for public benefit.

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