Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Polish doctors fly to Ireland to pick up some practice

THE NEW EUROPE Six 'flying doctors' provide regular consultations in Northern Ireland, sharing their time between their home and the territory

AFP , BELFAST

Called the "flying doctors," Polish general practitioners have become veritable part-time migrants who work regular night shifts here to fill a vacuum left by their British or Irish counterparts.

"All the patients in the world are the same," according to Agata Slawin, 40, a native of the southwestern Polish city of Wroclaw who spends one weekend out of two at Craigavon Hospital in the heart of Northern Ireland.

Why would Slawin, a mother of two who has her own practice in Wroclaw, fly to the other end of Europe to do night shifts at weekends?

For one thing, she said she can earn four to five times as much in Northern Ireland. By doing four shifts in two days, Slawin can go back home with a check for ?1,500 (US$2,850).

Though she has to cover her travel costs, the plane ticket between Wroclaw and Dublin only costs about ?100 thanks to budget airlines.

For another, she added, the experience itself is valuable.

"It's a great opportunity to exchange our experience, between Polish and Irish doctors," Slawin said. "Generally skill sharing between European doctors is very beneficial for patients and medicine."

To provide round-the-clock public health care, Britain's National Health Service has tried to hire enough doctors from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales as well as from across the border in the Republic of Ireland.

With the EU acquiring new eastern European member states in May 2004, the authorities in the British province launched a campaign to hire doctors from the new member countries.

"I understand the Polish system is quite similar to ours, so it was easy for our Polish colleagues to come over and integrate well in the service we have in Northern Ireland," said Ruth Rogers, spokeswoman at the Southern Health and Social Services Board.

For two years, six "flying doctors" have provided regular consultations and a seventh is being recruited. Moreover, eight Polish doctors are now based semi-permanently in Northern Ireland. All of them have maintained their practices in Poland.

"I saw an advertisement by headhunters in the local press in Wroclaw. I had a word with my wife [who said] if you really have to go you go, but we'll wait and see what happens," said Mariusz Domanski.

For 18 months he has been spending three weeks out of four at the Daisy Hill hospital in Newry, a town bordering the Republic of Ireland, where he has been doing night shifts.

In order to learn more about Ireland, Domanski has rented a room with a Northern Irish family because his wife and four children prefer to remain behind in Poland.

"I was very afraid to see my first patient, afraid they would not understand me. But people are very polite here, much more than in Poland. I can't say I had any bad experience. " he said.

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