Northern Ireland news

Cuban doctors may help south west hospital

South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen. Picture by John McVitty.
John Breslin

Cuban doctors could be on their way to Northern Ireland to help with a staffing crisis at a hospital in Fermanagh.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has written to the Cuban Embassy asking for help after the general emergency surgery was suspended at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) in Enniskillen due to the inability to hire doctors.

The embassy replied positively, asking for more information on what staff and specialties were needed and suggesting a meeting, according to a report of a committee meeting, a councilor said.

Cuba has a huge number of doctors, around 100,000, and many of them work in dozens of countries across the world, either responding to disasters or as a way for the country, which has been under a US embargo for six decades, to raise hard currency.

Doctors in the country earn little more than the average monthly wage of approximately 4000 Cuban pesos but can make substantially more working abroad. However, there are multiple reports the Cuban government takes a large cut of any money countries are prepared to pay for the health services.

The country is facing multiple crises, with inflation at more than 40 per cent, food shortages and electricity black outs.

According to Independent councillor Eamon Keenan following a report in the Fermanagh Herald, the council received a letter from Marta Castillo Gonzalez, who heads the economic affairs section of the London embassy.

Ms Castillo Gonzalez asked the council for further information and revealed her country's Ministry of Public Health was informed of the request.

The Western health trust, which manages the hospital, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Councillor Keenan said the return note “came about after I requested that our council write to them a few months ago”.

“I proposed that we accept their offer of help and that we invite the Chief Executive Neil Guickian of the Western trust to attend the meeting to avail of the support of the Cuban doctors,” Mr Keenan wrote in a Facebook post.

Cuba has almost 50,000 medical professors, more than 100,000 doctors and around 100,000 nurses. With an average of nine doctors and nine nurses per 1,000 inhabitants, Cuba is today one of the best equipped nations in the world in this sector. 

Mr Keenan, in his social media post, referred to Henry Reeves Brigade, a group of doctors dispatched to various parts of the world hit by natural disasters and epidemics.

But the socialist government publicly admits it makes a significant amount of money from the provision of health services to dozens of countries across the world. 

According to the Cuban Foreign Ministry, in 2021 23,792 health professionals operated in 56 countries. But this number is far less than several years ago when 50,000 worked abroad.

This has also impacted overall foreign currency earned for the export of health services, $4.3 billion in 2021, down from $6.3 billion in 2018.

According to a 2019 report in the Guardian, hundreds of Cuban doctors working in Qatar earned around $1,000 (£778) a month, a tenth of what other foreign health professionals can make. It was reported the remainder of the earnings is sent to the Cuban government.

The invitation to come to Fermanagh appears to have broad support among councillors, with the suggestion it could be a short or medium term solution to the hiring crisis.

However, councillor Victor Warrington said the doctors would likely be in the country temporarily when what is needed are "permanent answers to our problems and not a sticking plaster".



Northern Ireland news