Emergency departments ‘struggle’ with staff levels

HOSPITAL emergency departments are struggling to cope with serious staff shortages, resulting in some shifts being left uncovered and causing havoc to existing quality and safety standards.

Advocacy group the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM) has warned that some emergency departments are struggling to cope with staff levels up to 80% below what is needed.

A nationwide survey by the group, which represents emergency department staff, has found that 18 of the 31 public hospitals are drastically under- staffed – with serious gaps across all worker levels due to strict HSE budgets.

According to the survey, Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan is 80% under required staff levels, while Kerry General (66%), the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise (50%) and Letterkenny General (50%) are all operating on less than half the necessary staff.

The Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Dooradoyle, Co Limerick (33%), Mercy University Hospital (30%), Mayo General (28%), Sligo General (25%), Wexford General (25%), the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar, Co Westmeath (22%) and Cork University Hospital (18%) have also reported major shortages, among others.

The IAEM said the failure to reach necessary staff levels is apparent across all fields within the emergency departments.

According to the group, there is a 13% vacancy rate for registrar posts and a 11.5% vacancy rate for senior house officers, while there are just 58 emergency department consultants for 31 hospitals.

“Unfortunately, the paucity of consultants nationally means Irish emergency departments are overly dependent on junior doctors, particularly doctors in the senior house officer grade,” a group spokesperson explained.

“The current shortages mean either certain shifts are left uncovered or departments are reliant on locum doctors.

“Such short-term locums are unlikely to be able to provide the same standard of care as doctors in substantive posts who have been provided with appropriate induction or ongoing training integration.

“Such recruitment difficulties inevitably lead to longer delays for patients and a demonstrable fall in clinical standards,” he added.

A HSE spokesperson said that according to the organisation’s figures, 165 of the 4,638 junior doctor posts in Ireland are vacant.

“These represent vacancies with critical service implications.

“The full extent of vacancies has changed as a number of posts have been suppressed to allow introduction of additional consultant posts,” she said.

The HSE spokesperson added that these vacancies are “disproportionately located in small to medium-size hospitals”.

The IAEM has warned that “the situation will be even worse” by the start of next year, when the next group of junior doctor incumbents become available.

Those who are recruiting have noted a “significant fall-off in the number of applicants for posts even to those hospitals which have not traditionally experienced recruitment difficulties”.


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