Doctors say cutbacks are putting lives at risk

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has been urged to ensure health service cutbacks are halted, after a leading doctors’ group warned the "alarming" funding drain is putting patients’ lives at risk.

The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association issued the call to the new health minister at its 2015 pre-budget submission launch.

Speaking at the publication of the document, IHCA president, Dr Ger Crotty, said there is a “pressing need” to halt cuts to hospital and mental health service funds as patients are being “adversely affected” by “increased delays and growing waiting lists”.

He said budgets for both vital sectors have been “cut excessively” since the start of the recession, with a massive €873m being removed from the total health system since 2008 — a 20% reduction.

Warning that recent budgets “have not been based on realistic estimates of patient demand”, the consultant haematologist at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore said it is “essential” that increased funds are provided.

And while he accepted the issues have been highlighted by a number of groups in recent years, the senior medic said the health minister changeover means an opportunity now exists to draw a line in the sand.

“It is of major concern that budgets for acute hospitals have been cut to unrealistic levels such that, in the first months of 2014, acute hospital expenditure was €104.8m over-budget. The vast majority of hospitals are grossly under-funded with some over-spending by up to 21%. Funding for acute hospital services has been cut by almost one fifth compared with the resources in place in 2008.

“If increased resources are not provided in the 2015 budget it will increase the risk that a growing number of patients will not be treated within a medically appropriate timeframe,” Dr Crotty explained.

“Alarmingly, there were 50,689 patients awaiting elective care in May 2014 — representing a 5% increase on May 2013. It is clear the deep acute hospital budget cuts have increased the number of patients awaiting treatment,” he added.

According to the IHCA: nHospital funding has been slashed by €873m, or 20%, since 2008.

nMental health funding has been cut by almost €250m, or 25%, since 2009, at a time when the number of people on child and adolescent mental health service waiting lists has risen by 11%, to 3,029 people.

nBetween January and May, 46 of Ireland’s 49 hospitals were €104.8m over-budget, twice the rate at the same point last year. This issue was recently highlighted in an Irish Examiner special report.

Before being replaced during the cabinet reshuffle, ex-health minister Dr James Reilly was involved in a significant private row with Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin over proposed cuts to the service.

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