Non-EEA doctors who have been campaigning for the removal of obstacles to specialist training and career progression in Ireland have welcomed recently announced changes to both work permit and visa schemes.

Dr Liqa ur Rehman, co-founder and president of 'Train Us for Ireland' described the changes as "historic".

In September, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly scrapped a system that gave doctors from Ireland, the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway preferential access to specialist/postgraduate training places.

However, under the new scheme non-EEA (European Economic Area) doctors first needed to have a Stamp 4 visa.

'Train Us for Ireland' raised concerns that non-EEA Non-Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs) would have to spend five years in Ireland before being able to start such training.

It said that the practice of employing NCHDs on contracts of between six and 12 months precluded them from accessing a visa that would fast track this process.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar confirmed that a number of changes were in train.

On 6 December, his department announced that NCHDs would now be issued with two-year multi-site employment permits, instead of needing to apply for a new permit every time the place of their employment changes.

"In addition to that we are going to offer Stamp 4 visas to non-European doctors who are here for more than two years and that will then allow them to get on specialist training schemes and apply for consultant posts on the same basis as an Irish or EU citizen once they've been here working in the system for two years and we will be implementing those changes in a matter of weeks," Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.

It is expected that this change will come into effect in January 2022.

"Non-European doctors make an enormous contribution to the Irish Health Service...and they have done a phenomenal job during this pandemic as well," Mr Varakar told the Dáil.

However, he recognised that "non-European doctors aren't always treated very well in our system".

"It is very hard for them to get consultant posts, very hard for them even to get on specialist training schemes and Minister Donnelly and I are working on this. It is something which we're going to change," Mr Varadkar said.

Dr ur Rehman said that the changes would improve the lives of non-EEA doctors living and working in Ireland, giving them and their families "stability" as well as helping them to "further their careers in Ireland and apply for equal training access".

However, Dr ur Rehman said that they were still awaiting information on how the changes to the Stamp 4 visa would be applied, and whether for example, it would be retrospective as he said that "there are a lot of (non-EEA) doctors already working here for two, three or four years".

The Irish Medical Organisation has also welcomed the changes to work permits and visas for non-EEA doctors, but described them as "first steps in addressing a range of issues".

In a statement, it said that IMO has been "fighting for fairness for our International Doctors for many years now".

"Our public health services are very reliant on the dedication and commitment of our International Doctors and we must do everything possible to ensure proper career structures for them," the statement added.