We want to deliver best possible care
First of all it's a matter of concern that these posts aren't filled. Doctors in Northern Ireland want to deliver the best possible care they can to patients.
We cannot give the highest level of care if there are vacancies in the service meaning that the doctors required are just not there to provide the service.
This is a complex issue; it's not just a problem of recruitment but also of retention of those already working. A good example is that of the difficulties facing our emergency departments – we have seen doctors and medical students, for example, turn away from a career in emergency medicine.
The difficulties of trying to deliver a first-class service, meeting increased demand and expectations within ever tighter financial and resource constraints, are well recognised
Under this pressure some senior doctors are voting with their feet and retiring early while we have seen others leave Northern Ireland to work in Australia where there is perceived to be a better work/life balance.
It isn't just a Northern Ireland problem, and it isn't just affecting some specialities although it affects some more than others. There have traditionally been problems with recruiting for emergency departments, obstetrics and paediatrics. We need to decide what service we can deliver within the financially constrained environment that we have and that is a decision not only for doctors but for our elected representatives, the public and wider society.
We need to have workforce planning that is adequate to the task, making sure that we not only have enough doctors but the right number trained in the specialties required. This is a difficult task but one that needs to be tackled if we are to deliver the health service that the people of Northern Ireland need and deserve.
Dr Paul Darragh is chairman of the Northern Ireland Council of the British Medical Association.