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Consultants warn acute hospital system is 'at breaking point'

President of the Irish Hospital Consultant Association, Dr Donal O'Hanlon, warned that the acute hospital system is "at breaking point" because of a severe shortage of consultants, beds and other facilities.

Consultants warn acute hospital system is 'at breaking point'

Consultants expect this year to be the “worst on record” for the number of admitted patients treated on trolleys in the country's acute hospitals.

President of the Irish Hospital Consultant Association, Dr Donal O'Hanlon, warned that the acute hospital system is "at breaking point" because of a severe shortage of consultants, beds and other facilities.

“The quality and safety of patient care are deteriorating further due to persistent under-investment," he warned at the launch of the IHCA's pre-budget submission in Dublin.

"We cannot expect patients to continue to wait for the promised land of Sláintecare," said Dr O'Hanlon, who was referring to the 10-year programme to transform the country's health and social care services.

The IHCA that represents 95% of hospital consultants, wants the Government to tackle the consultant shortage and other public hospital capacity deficits in the budget.

In the previous budget, Exchequer funding for public hospitals only increased by €225m, and the IHCA believes this is far short of what is needed to address the demand for care.

And, with 500 consultant posts either vacant or filled temporarily the impact was being felt right across hospital and mental health services.

The IHCA has called for the restoration of pay parity for all consultants appointed since October 2012 to retain and attract consultants back to the health service.

It also wants all consultant posts filled permanently rather than relying on costly agency or locum consultants.

Dr O'Hanlon said there are “simple and effective measures” that could be implemented immediately, such as those outlined in their pre-budget submission, that could improve waiting times, get patients off trolleys and treated quicker.

The IHCA's submission states that 2,600 additional acute hospital beds and 4,500 residential beds must be delivered well before 2027.

It also points out that there are 40 fewer intensive care unit beds (249) than there was a decade ago and that 330 more are needed.

Improvements in governance are also needed: It wants hospital groups and community healthcare organisations to be fully merged to reduce corporate management and administrative staffing.

Dr O'Hanlon said Ireland's hospital system could be compared to Scotland's to show how far it has fallen behind the EU norms.

“When adjusted for the population we spend 29% less on our acute hospitals than Scotland. Also, Scotland has 56% more consultants per head of population,” said Dr O'Hanlon.

IHCA secretary-general, Martin Varley, said he does not want to speculate on the kind of funding that would be needed for the country's acute hospitals.

“But the overall direction of travel is abundantly clear – that we need to increase the funding for acute hospitals and put the basics in place,” he said.

Mr Varley said it would probably be a “five or ten-year journey” to resource the hospitals properly.

Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a paediatric radiologist, said it would cost less if patients are treated when the disease is at an earlier stage.

“To do that you have to front-load the investment and it will be a couple of years before you get the return," said Dr Colleran.

That would be quite challenging for the Government because they risk being "hammered" by the opposition.

Dr Colleran also said pay parity for consultants would be more than “cost neutral” with €57m extra spent every year on locums.

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