Key national health programmes at risk due to ongoing consultant recruitment crisis
- National Children’s Hospital, National Cancer Care, Maternity Strategy, Mental Health Plan, and the Critical Care Programme among those threatened by consultant shortage
- Hospital consultants meet to discuss impact of consultant crisis on delivery of health services to Irish patients at today’s Annual Conference
IHCA President: “Our 2019 Annual Conference comes at a time of increasing crisis in public hospital care.”
With a record number of one million people on hospital waiting lists nationally, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) will discuss and address key challenges for Ireland’s health service at its annual conference today (Saturday, 21 September) at Dublin’s Radisson Blu Hotel.
The conference will focus on a number of key themes, including addressing the current challenges in the delivery of acute hospital and mental health services; acute hospital demand and bed capacity; and the deepening in consultant recruitment and retention crisis.
National health programmes at risk
According to the IHCA, the ongoing consultant crisis, whereby one in five, or 500 consultant posts nationally are unfilled or temporarily filled, means that the implementation of several key national health programmes are now at risk. These include:
- The National Children’s Hospital project, where Phase One, the Urgent Care Centre at Connolly Hospital, could only open in July on a part-time basis due to consultant shortages. Ongoing consultant shortages now puts the larger main children’s hospital project at risk.
- The National Cancer Care Programme, which is failing to meet its requirements of seeing 95% of all patients within 2 weeks again due to consultant or bed shortages.
- The National Maternity Strategy, launched in 2015 following several adverse maternity events at hospitals such as Portlaoise, cannot be fully implemented because of a failure to recruit the 100 additional gynaecologists and obstetricians recommended under the Strategy.
- In intensive care, the National Critical Care Programme has less than half the ICU consultants required to provide the highest standards of specialist care for critically ill patients across our hospitals. There are currently only 35 wholetime equivalent ICU consultant posts rather than the 82 which are required.
- In Urology, a new model of care launched in early September has little chance of success due to the chronic shortage of Consultant Urologists. We currently have 37 Urologists across Ireland, one third of what New Zealand has, or only 15% of the number in Denmark, both countries have similar populations to Ireland.
- The Government’s National Mental Health Plan, ‘A Vision for Change’, first published in 2006 as a blueprint for the delivery of these services, remains hugely under resourced. Children and adolescent services have about 50% of the specialist staff they need; this also the case for older people’s mental health services. Adult services have 25% less than is needed.
In addition, IHCA members will discuss the organisation’s Pre-Budget Submission, which calls on the Government in Budget 2020 to significantly increase investment in acute hospital and mental health services.
According to the IHCA, increased investment in specialist staff and beds are required to address the rationing of care, record waiting lists, and the number of patients currently being treated on trolleys.
The opposition party health spokespersons Deputies Stephen Donnelly TD and Louise O’Reilly TD will also contribute to the debate on the day.
IHCA Vice-President Dr Laura Durcan said:
“We are now just weeks away from the peak winter period when our acute public hospitals are characterised by overcrowding, trolleys, and long wait times.
“The ongoing consultant recruitment crisis, a feature of our health services for many years now, exacerbates the other capacity constraints in our system. We need to get all stakeholders around the table and fix this problem. Minister Harris must prioritise negotiations with the IHCA on this issue – care can’t wait.”
Also commenting, IHCA President Dr Donal O’Hanlon said:
“The word crisis, when describing our health services, is now unfortunately an overused and devalued term, yet the truth is that all the indicators point to the fact that the delivery of our health services, year on year, is diminishing. The numbers of patients waiting are increasing and access is becoming more restricted. The IHCA’s #CARECANTWAIT campaign in recent months has been raising awareness as to the extent of this problem.
“Not only are hundreds of thousands of patients now waiting to see a consultant, but key national health care programmes in areas such as mental health, intensive care, maternity services, and cancer care are at risk of failure because of the consultant recruitment crisis.
“These programmes are nationwide and cut across our population whether by age or geographic location. Their origins lie in the recognised need for a better delivery of services to patients. However, the lack of specialist staff, particularly consultants, means that these programmes are at risk of not delivering the essential change and improvements, which was the basis of their development in the first place.
“Our public health services and acute hospitals are on life support and their condition shows no sign of improvement. We cannot allow this deterioration to continue. The message from consultants to Minister Harris today is to sit down with the IHCA now to begin the rehabilitation of our health services.”