Filling over 500 vacant consultant posts is key solution to delays in providing timely care to 845,000 patients on waiting lists

  • 79,000 added to waiting lists since start of 2020, as 844,719 patients now wait for care;
  • 612,817 outpatients are waiting for a consultant appointment, an increase of over 235,000 compared with 2014 and 59,383 during 2020;
  • Direct correlation between record number of people waiting for outpatient appointments and long-standing hospital consultant vacancies. Increased wait times adversely impact patient outcomes in key areas of care;
  • Over 18,000 patients now waiting over a year for essential inpatient/day case treatment – more than double the number at the start of 2020.

 IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine: “Key to bringing down wait times continues to be more consultants and hospital capacity to care for patients”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has continued to call on Government to finally accept that the solution to ending record patient waiting times is the filling of over 500 vacant permanent consultant posts and the opening of more beds.

The IHCA was commenting after the latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) showed another record number of patients waiting for health care.

While recent Government investment in the Winter Plan and Budget 2021 are welcome, any delays in addressing the severe shortage of hospital consultants and the capacity deficits in our public health service will have serious implications for patients waiting to see a consultant and for patients on waiting lists for essential scheduled procedures, the Association warned.

The continued failure of the Government since 2012 to address the hospital consultant recruitment and retention crisis and other capacity deficits is the root cause of the almost 79,000 increase in the number of patients waiting for hospital care since the beginning of 2020 as confirmed  by the latest NTPF waiting lists figures:

  • 844,719 people are now on some form of NTPF waiting list, an increase of 78,955 (10%) since the start of the year;
  • 612,817 outpatients nationally are waiting to be seen by a consultant, an increase of 235,315 (62%) in the past six years and 59,383 (10.7%) during 2020, and;
  • 203,814 more people are waiting over a year for a consultant outpatient appointment compared with 2014 – a fivefold increase;
  • 74,860 patients are now wating for essential inpatient/day case procedures, which is an increase of 8,297(12.5%) patients since the start of 2020 and an increase of almost three-quarters compared with 2012; with
  • 18,361 patients now waiting over a year for essential inpatient/day case treatment – more than double the number at the start of the year, or 9,244 (101%) additional patients, and a staggering 68 times the number waiting in 2012.

The latest NTPF waiting list figures come after the Government announced record funding levels in Budget 2021.

Commenting on today’s waiting lists, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:

“Month after month, waiting list records are getting worse yet we continue to fail to accept key flaws that are causing the problem. There is general acceptance that more consultants and more beds to care for patients is the solution. While government has committed record funding levels in its recent Budget, until this money is channelled effectively and speedily to where it will make a difference for patients, we will continue to publish record waiting lists.

“In budgetary terms, for a fraction of the level of spending commitments made we could fix the core problem of vacant permanent consultant posts. The immediate benefits this would have on patient care and waiting lists would also extend to other cost savings.

Government can no longer ignore the fundamental requirement that the provision of timely hospital care to patients cannot be achieved with an insufficient number of hospital consultants and hundreds of vacant permanent consultant posts. No amount of investment in services will reduce waiting lists unless we recruit and retain the necessary number of consultants to deliver timely care.

 “In addition to urgently filling the necessary number of consultant posts, additional acute hospital capacity needs to be commissioned and opened at speed to provide essential care to non-COVID-19 patients as well as to COVID-19 patients. This requires expansion of acute and ICU beds, operating theatre and outpatient facilities.”

Prof Alan Irvine, IHCA President, has confirmed that the Association has sought meetings with Minister Stephen Donnelly and the HSE CEO, Mr Paul Reid “to agree practical plans and workable solutions that will address the capacity deficits and in turn resolve the waiting lists and the impact of further COVID waves.

“The first and obvious step for Government is to end the salary inequity imposed on consultants taking up contracts since 2012, so that hospitals can fill over 500 vacant permanent posts.

“This would have an immediate impact in reducing waiting lists for outpatient, inpatient and day-case appointments.

“The consequences of not addressing the consultant recruitment and retention crisis is for the Government to perpetuate and exacerbate the deterioration in public hospital capacity to provide care to patients.”

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