Consultant blasts 'dangerous, reckless and unsustainable' health system

Consultant blasts 'dangerous, reckless and unsustainable' health system

Issues in the healthcare system as "dangerous, reckless and unsustainable", said Prof Alan Irvine, of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

The scale of the Covid-19 pandemic would not have been so severe if long-standing health service problems hadn’t been long-fingered - current issues confronting the healthcare system are “dangerous, reckless and unsustainable”.

Those were some of the strident criticisms launched by Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) president Prof Alan Irvine as he addressed its annual conference this morning.

In front of attendees such as health minister Stephen Donnelly and HSE director general Paul Reid, Mr Irvine said the virus has shown up long standing issues in Irish healthcare.

“It has brought our society to the brink. Our people are feeling its effects personally, socially, financially, and psychologically.

“It has sharply brought home to us the co-dependency that exists between a sustainable economy and a properly resourced health system—a co- dependency that perhaps we didn’t truly appreciate up to now.

“Our leaders are making and facing unenviable choices - choices which increasingly involve trade-offs, in particular between living and livelihoods. 

I am firmly of the view that these choices would never have arisen, at least at such scale, if we had sufficiently invested our health services over time.

“Time and again, the problems we and others highlighted in our health system were long-fingered,” he said.

As a result, our health service has been backed into a corner and the consequences are hitting people hard, he said.

“Right now, available bed capacity stands at 2%. That’s dangerous. 

Right now, 840,000 people are waiting for care. That’s reckless. Right now, 500 consultant posts remain vacant. That’s unsustainable.

Yet, as the unenviable choices mount-up, the Government continues to evade the choices which would avoid much of the pain, Mr Irvine claimed.

“Evading decisions and delivery timetables on capacity fundamentals like: elective hospitals and trauma strategy; ICU, acute and step-down beds; consultant pay parity; and localised decision-making,” he said.

Report after report has found the key to capacity is people and beds, yet we continue to evade the obvious remedies, he said.

“And all of this at a time when, at €600m, we are spending more than ever before on a Winter Plan while borrowing €20bn and counting to shore-up so much of our social, cultural, and commercial lives.” 

Capacity, devolved decision-making, and forward planning are the solutions to three core challenges that consultants face in caring for patients, he said.

“If there are better ways to address these and other problems, we’ll gladly engage to develop them because now is a time for solutions. So much of what we took for granted or accepted as the way things are done has been flipped by Covid-19.

“The system’s failure to join the dots between an under-resourced health system, a lack of effective planning and the risk this poses to livelihoods has bitten hard.”

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