There are currently over 500 unfilled permanent hospital consultant posts right across Ireland’s public hospitals, according to the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association.
The IHCA has met with Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to outline the main factors contributing to the trolley crisis, waiting times for patients and other key pressures upon services which are impacting upon hospital staff as well as upon patient outcomes.
At the meeting earlier this week with Mr Harris, the IHCA urged Fine Gael, as part of its election pledges, to commit to a selection of goals to ease the health sector’s current crisis, namely:
- A commitment to open 800 public hospital beds within two years and fast-track an additional 2,600 hospital beds by the end of 2025
- To commit to creating resources needed to deliver a maximum waiting time of four hours for patients presenting at emergency departments to be admitted to an inpatient bed if needed, discharged home or transferred to an appropriate service
- To commit to creating resources needed to deliver a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks following a GP referral for a consultant outpatient appointment and for inpatient/day-case public hospital treatment
- To commit to ending a “failed government policy of consultant pay discrimination” that has caused 500 unfilled permanent consultant posts and added to the misery of one million people waiting for treatment and hundreds languishing on trolleys daily
IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon: “At our meeting, front line hospital consultants appealed to Minister Harris to put politics aside and patients first, by fully committing to effective targets to deliver timely care to patients which at least match those in the NHS.
“The delivery of effective targets will require the implementation of practical workable solutions that the IHCA has recommended for years,” he said.
“The first requirement to provide timely care to the one million people on public hospital waiting lists and the hundreds of patients being treated on trolleys each day is to recruit and retain a sufficient number of permanent hospital consultants.
More than anything else, we need to fill the current 500 unfilled permanent hospital consultant posts caused by the Government’s discrimination against new consultants.
"The discrimination and the consequent consultant shortages are the main contributory factors behind the one million people now waiting for hospital treatment and the hundreds of patients languishing on hospital trolleys each day.
“Getting highly trained specialist consultants back working in our public hospitals will ensure that hospital patients are treated without unacceptable delays. Fine Gael’s election campaign urges the Irish public to ‘look forward’. But without decisive action now to attract hospital consultants into our health service, one million people waiting for hospital care can’t look forward with hope, but only with continued despair.”
The IHCA representatives, attending the talks with the health minister on behalf of more than 95% of Ireland’s hospital consultants, said that the 500 unfilled permanent hospital consultant posts across Ireland’s public hospitals are recognised as the root cause of the long waiting times now experienced by patients and the trolley crisis in the country’s public hospitals — which is currently resulting in hundreds of patients being treated on trolleys each day.
Over the past seven years, hundreds of highly trained specialist consultants have decided not to practice in our public hospitals and emigrated, resulting in one-in-five of all permanent hospital consultant posts now being unfilled.
Hospital consultants in Ireland assert that filling these posts is essential to ensuring that public hospitals, across all specialties, have enough hospital consultants to properly staff teams and care for patients.
The IHCA noted that the problems in Ireland’s health services have been steadily in decline since October 2012, when Fine Gael’s then minister for health, Dr James
Reilly, took the decision to slash the pay of all hospital consultants appointed after that date.
The decision to introduce pay discrimination between consultants appointed before and after October 2012 has created a significant pay difference between consultants undertaking the same work in the same hospital at the same time.
Dr O’Hanlon added: “Patients have endured the adverse and severe impact of the government’s 2012 decision, which has driven hospital consultants away from our public hospitals to practise abroad and in private hospitals.
"For outpatients waiting to see a consultant — over 550,000 in total; the 66,000 patients waiting for inpatient and day-case treatment; and, the hundreds of thousands waiting for scans and MRIs, the devastating impact of consultant shortages over the past five years is evident to all.”