Row over bed numbers ‘paralysing service’

A CONFLICT between the Health Minister Mary Harney and the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) on the question of providing more hospital beds is paralysing the country’s hospitals, the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) has claimed.

IHCA president Dr Mary McCaffrey said the shortage of hospital beds was at the core of the crisis in the health service.

“It is outrageous that this cash-rich country should have 25% fewer hospital beds now than it had 20 years ago at a time when the population is now 25% larger,” Dr McCaffrey told the IHCA’s annual conference in Mullingar.

She said that more than a year ago Ms Harney acknowledged the need for more beds but that HSE chief executive, Professor Brendan Drumm, was continuing to contradict her.

“There is nowhere else in the history of the public sector where the chief executive of a State agency opposes government policy so publicly and with such ill-effect,” she said.

Dr McCaffrey said people needed the 3,000 extra hospital beds promised repeatedly by the State in recent years and which still remain State policy.

“The HSE has just sunk into the same paralysis that has dogged health administration in this country for years with its chief executive publicly opposing the Minister for Health on critical issues.”

The consultants’ conference also condemned the failure of the HSE to implement the recommendations of the Lourdes Hospital Inquiry that examined the high rate of caesarean hysterectomies performed by obstetrician Dr Michael Neary.

IHCA national council member Dr Dominic Ó Brannagain, who is based at Lourdes Hospital, said that only recommendations which carried no cost had been implemented and that the HSE had decided to commission another report on the hospital: “We have been reported to exhaustion. The time has come for all parties to show leadership and implement these reports.”

Consultants at the conference also rejected plans by the Medical Council to introduce random screening of doctors. While the IHCA supports the concept of competence assurance it believes doctors should only be screened as part of an investigation process in instances where a specific complaint has been made against a practitioner.

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