Republic's GP shortage ‘could be eased through help of Ukrainian doctors'
The severe shortage of general practitioners in the Republic of Ireland could be eased through the help of Ukrainian doctors who fled their homes at the outbreak of the Russian invasion.
It is understood that up to 24 Ukrainian GPs are now living in the Republic of Ireland, most of whom are employed in clerical roles in the HSE.
However, language challenges have proved to be a barrier for those registering to become a GP.
Dr Kateryna Kachurets, a Ukrainian GP who was based at a Tallaght practice at the outbreak of the war, is now supporting refugees in the Citywest Hotel.
Dr Kachurets, originally from Kyiv, trained in Poland and then moved to Ireland in 2016.
She did her internship at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin before completing her GP training scheme, and has been a fully qualified GP since 2021.
Dr Kachurets describes the weeks after the invasion as a “bit of a blur”.
As well as working with Ukrainian patients, Dr Kachurets works with the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and the HSE as a GP lead in the migrant and Ukrainian response.
She is also helping and providing advice to Ukrainian doctors, many of whom want to register to practise in Ireland.
But only 30% have self-assessed as being proficient in English.
GP services in towns and villages in rural areas that are already stretched are being compounded by a rise in the number of refugees.
However, the GP workforce crisis could be eased if more Ukrainian GPs could register to work in the system, Dr Kachurets said.
“We have a couple of dozen GPs in Ireland and if they decide to get registered here and start working, then they’d be a huge asset to the general practice in Ireland,” Dr Kachurets said.
“Some of them are younger doctors and some may have young children. But, again, if they’re younger doctors they’re more likely to speak English and it won’t be as challenging for them to learn a new language and start their new life here.
“It’s a huge adjustment for them to move to a new country and most of them don’t speak English.
“They’re starting from scratch and that’s very challenging in your mid-40s to start learning a new language.
“I think that’s going to be one of the bigger barriers for them in seeking registration because they all need to pass a language test.
“Only about 25 to 30% of them said they have a good enough degree of English.
“It’s only a relatively small percentage. So up to 75% of them have to improve their language.”
While many are taking language classes, it can be difficult for people living outside cities and in rural parts.
“I think if we could come up with 10 or 20 more GPs, that would really help the system in general,” she added.
“I think having more doctors in general will ease the burden, but more GPs will make a huge difference.
“We will feel it immediately if we can get 10 or 15 or 20 new GPs and ask them to look after Ukrainians in congregated settings.
“That will really ease the burden immediately, whereas secondary care will probably be a more long-term support.”
Dr Kachurets said she is lucky to be part of the working group.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m very, very lucky to be able to support Ukrainians in Ireland,” she added.
“When I came here in 2016, I never could have even imagined that I’d be supporting my own people here. I think it’s a great privilege and it felt like an amazing opportunity to do what’s important.”
She also said those living in Irish communities will find it easier to integrate into society.
“In Ireland a lot of things depend on who you know, especially for somebody to get their first job in Ireland,” Dr Kachurets added.
“I think if they have some Irish connection, like those families that are hosting them are willing to make a few calls, and just help them get a start in the country. That’s really helpful. Whereas if they’re housed in those congregated settings, it’s difficult.
“That Ukrainian bubble might be very comfortable in one way, but long term it’s not a good thing because they’re not improving their language skills, they’re not integrating into the society.
“They’re in this one Ukrainian bubble and they’re all communicating with each other. But that’s never going to be a long-term solution.
“At some point if they decide to stay here, they are going to have to find ways to communicate outside of that bubble.”