Northern Ireland doctors report positive training experiences

Medical students and doctors in Northern Ireland have told us they are flourishing in their supportive and positive learning environments.

The role of senior colleagues in helping to develop the next generation of doctors was highlighted during our national review of medical education and training in Northern Ireland.

As part of the review, we spoke to doctors at all five health, social care trusts across a range of specialties. And we met with medical students at Queen’s University.

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

High standards and commitment

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.

Areas for improvement 

We identified some areas of concern during our 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.

Trusts taking positive action 

Dr Colin Melville, our 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.’