Medics’ unions warn of staff shortages

The Irish health system is “sleepwalking into another winter crisis” due to HSE’s inability to address the shortage of consultants, GPs, and nurses in the public service, according to healthcare professionals’ representatives.

Medics’ unions warn of staff shortages

By Joe Leogue

The Irish health system is “sleepwalking into another winter crisis” due to HSE’s inability to address the shortage of consultants, GPs, and nurses in the public service, according to healthcare professionals’ representatives.

Two organisations representing doctors and nurses have raised their concerns about the HSE’s ability to recruit new staff and hold on to those considering leaving the Irish system.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) says the HSE’s own figures show that the nation’s emergency departments are at least 216 nurses short of what is required to care for all admitted patients.

It said figures presented at a meeting between the HSE and the INMO at the Workplace Relations Commission yesterday show that there are 159 unfilled nursing vacancies, while the HSE also estimates that an additional 57 nurses are required within emergency departments to care for admitted patients for whom there are no available beds.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said overcrowding “is now a constant feature of our hospital system, even in summer”.

The HSE still haven’t set out their funding workforce plan, which sets how many nurses and midwives they will recruit this year,” said Ms Ní Sheaghdha.

“The hazardous working conditions for staff look set to worsen. The HSE is sleepwalking into yet another winter crisis. We have sought discussions on which services will be curtailed this winter, so that nursing staff can work in safe environments. It is very unlikely that services will develop to alleviate overcrowding this year. Plans must now be put in place to ensure a safe working environment.”

In its response, the HSE said the number of vacancies “is in line with the normal vacancy rate”.

In the past two years, ED nursing staff posts have increased by almost 20% with an additional 200 nursing posts in place,” the HSE said in a statement.

“An expert review commissioned by the Department of Health has identified the need to create a further 57 nursing staff posts for boarded inpatients in EDs.

“This is in addition to the 123 posts initially identified by the Expert Review and which have already been funded. Funding for the 57 additional posts is being considered by the HSE and Department of Health in the context of engagement regarding Workforce Planning.”

The INMO said its trolly figures show that the past month was the most overcrowded July since its records began, up 11% on last year. It said 7,069 admitted patients were on trolleys across Ireland in July - 21 of them under the age of 16.

Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) says it believes there are close to 500 vacant consultant posts in the public health sector, and warns that 700 GPs are due to retire in the coming years.

It said cuts to consultants’ pay and GP services is causing a recruitment crisis that will impact on patient care.

Peadar Gilligan, president of the IMO said “the recruitment and retention problem in Ireland is now at crisis point”.

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