The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) President, Dr Donal O’Hanlon said:
“There is an opportunity for the new Government to work with IHCA and its 3,000 plus hospital consultants to collaboratively develop realistic and practical plans that can be implemented to ensure the provision of timely hospital care to patients.
“Dr O’Hanlon has warned of unprecedented challenges in the months ahead unless practical plans are developed and implemented to expand urgently our public hospital capacity and community step down services to provide care to patients with COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 illnesses.
“He said that Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of public hospital beds and hospital consultants in the EU, adjusted for population levels, and the ongoing potential threat of COVID-19 has further restricted the effective use of the limited capacity.
“Accordingly, it is imperative that the new Government urgently appoints a much-increased number of specialist consultants to fill existing vacancies and expand hospital capacity and open more public hospital and community beds.
“The IHCA has highlighted that what is required are realistic, practical plans to provide public hospital and community care in the coming months. This is essential for the delivery of timely care to patients in our acute public hospitals and must be top of the government’s agenda.
“Dr O’Hanlon said that the pace of implementing the 2018 Capacity Review and the National Development Plan has been far too slow and needs to be accelerated by the new Government to open the recommended additional 2,600 acute public hospital beds and the additional 4,500 community step down and rehab beds in the shortest possible timeframe.
“Previously closed acute hospital beds, that were reopened in the past 3 months to cater for the Covid-19 crisis, need to remain open on a permanent basis. The Government also needs to fund between 1,500 and 2,000 additional intermediate transitional care and step-down beds without delay. These beds are required to urgently free up public hospital capacity to treat patients suffering from delayed care due to the pandemic and those on legacy waiting lists.
“The failing to implement the recommendation, a decade ago, to double the number of public hospital ICU beds has over the years created significant problems in providing timely care. This must be addressed on a sustainable basis before the winter.
“It is essential that the hundreds of improvised ICU beds opened in recent months are now fully equipped in appropriate settings and staffed on a permanent basis as recommended in 2010 so that the ICU capacity is doubled to in excess of 520 ICU beds.
“The postponement of procedures and treatment since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak has amplified even further the unacceptable long waits patients are enduring. This requires an ‘emergency’ response from the Government which matches the urgency which was shown in tackling the pandemic in recent months.
“This requires significant investment and a singular focus in addressing public hospital capacity deficits and resourcing issues – opening the promised additional 2,600 public acute hospital beds and immediately filling of over 500 permanent consultant posts that have failed to be filled by ending the pay discrimination imposed on new consultants since 2012. These two aspects must be the immediate health priority for the next Government”.