The Government was today called on to tackle the obesity epidemic in Ireland.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) also demanded an urgent increase in public acute in-patient hospital beds and for the Minister for Finance to prioritise spending on the public hospital system in order to solve the A&E crisis.
In its pre-budget submission to Brian Cowen, the IMO stressed that the current situation regarding hospital beds represents a continuing capital crisis in healthcare.
It urged the minister to set the level of health spending in Ireland to reflect increased tax revenues.
Other measures put forward by the organisation include a €2 increase on the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes and adequate funding to establish a nursing home inspectorate for public and private-sector providers.
Members believe obesity can be targeted by the Government if it addresses the school insurance issue, which can prevent active break-time play by children, and examines the utility of tax incentives and subsidies for gym and sports club memberships.
“Last year, the Minister for Finance announced that public health spending would match inflation at 6%. However, health service inflation is approximately 9%,” said IMO president and consultant geriatrician Dr Christine O’Malley.
“Health service inflation is a measure of increasing complexity in our health service and requires far greater levels of funding.
“Until the Government acknowledges, addresses and replaces the acute beds removed from the system during the ’80s, the A&E crisis will continue to be a national emergency and patients will remain on trolleys in corridors.”
The IMO is calling for an increase to 15,000 public acute in-patient hospital beds and for the Minister for Finance to prioritise spending on the public hospital system in order to solve the A&E crisis.
In 1981, the population was 3,443,405 (CSO) and the acute bed capacity was 17,665. The 2006 census recorded a total population of 4,234,925 (up 23%) while the total number of acute beds had fallen to 12,455 (down 29%) in 2005.
The IMO calls, in every hospital, for:
:: Acute Medical Units that would allow elderly patients to bypass A&E and access acute hospital care.
:: New ring-fenced beds for elective surgery, to avoid cancellation of operations as a result of pressures on A&E.
:: Stroke units, which have been proven to reduce mortality and morbidity.
Dr Martin Daly, Chairman of the IMO GP Committee, also slammed the Government for failing to deliver on the 200,000 full medical cards promised in 2002.
“One of the main reasons for the decline in the number of people eligible for a full medical card is that income thresholds for qualification have not kept pace with rising incomes or welfare payments, leaving many without this valuable free service,” he said.
“The GP-visit-only medical cards are no substitute for full medical cards. The Government has set the qualifying levels for the GP-visit-only cards so low that the cards are of negligible value to those on lower incomes.
“As of June 2006, only 18,000 cards had been issued of the proposed 200,000.
"When the prohibitive costs associated with medicines are taken into account, it is plain to see that the GP-visit-only card scheme has had little impact on the delivery of primary services to the most vulnerable in our society.”
The organisation stressed that urgent funding is also required for several problems in respect of care of the older citizen.
“It has been commented in the past that older people are clogging up the acute care system,” continued Dr O’Malley.
“However, it is the older people who carry the burden of illness and disability and are most in need of acute hospital admission.
“The IMO believes that the state must make good the deficit in acute hospital bed capacity. This is particularly relevant to older persons, who are proportionately the largest and most needy group of service users.”