• 208 people have been added to public hospital waiting lists every single day over the past year – almost 9 people an hour, 24 hours a day;
  • Trust and culture within the Irish public health service must be addressed in order to tackle unacceptable waiting lists, capacity deficits and failures in the recruitment and retention of medical specialists; 
  • New #CareCantWait campaign video launched by Association to highlight the impact of the consultant crisis on the ongoing plight of people waiting for care;
  • IHCA Annual Conference will hear from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD, and Opposition Spokesperson David Cullinane TD.


IHCA President, Professor Alan Irvine: “Unless we change health service management culture, do the hard work of re-establishing trust, and improve working relationships, it is difficult to see how the Department can ever deliver an effective and empathetic public health service for the Irish people.”

Today, Friday 8 October 2021, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has issued a stark reminder of the damaging results of years of underinvestment and a lack of capacity in the health system.

In anticipation of its Annual Conference 2021 (on Saturday 9 October), the Association has launched a new #CareCantWait campaign video – to highlight the direct impact of the consultant recruitment and retention crisis on patients, bringing to the fore the root causes for the ongoing exodus of Irish medical talent abroad.

Having campaigned strongly for consecutive Governments to take meaningful action on addressing ever growing hospital waiting lists, the IHCA has launch this latest call for action as almost 1 million people are waiting for care in Ireland.

Now, the Government and HSE have published a short-term plan after it was revealed to Cabinet that waiting list numbers could rise by as much as another 500,000 people. This would represent a 50% increase on existing record numbers. If it transpires, we are moving from crisis to catastrophe.

Plight of patients laid bare

With almost the equivalent of one fifth of the Irish population on some form of hospital waiting lists, the analysis laid bare in the video shows that the rate of growth of people added to a list over the past year is equivalent to 208 people every day.

That is almost 9 people an hour, every hour of the day, who are being put to the bottom of a list and face months or years of anguish waiting to be assessed and treated by a hospital consultant. This now includes over 100,000 children.

The IHCA projects that without empathetic leadership that engages constructively with frontline hospital staff, these rates of growth could mean it will take healthcare staff and hospitals as long as 14 years (to 2035) to reduce waiting lists to manageable levels and clear the backlogs.

Consultants have long maintained that one of the most significant causes of these waiting lists is the ongoing consultant recruitment and retention crisis. Today, 1 in 5 permanent hospital consultant posts are either vacant or not filled as needed – or over 700 vacancies across the country’s acute public hospitals and mental health services.

However the plan published by the Government and HSE provides little insight into how these vacancies will be addressed as a core part of delivering on the goal to temper the growth of waiting lists in the short term.

Critical juncture for decisions and support

Meanwhile, at the conference tomorrow IHCA President and Consultant Dermatologist, Professor Alan Irvine, is expected to address members and highlight the decade-long erosion of trust between hospital consultants and health service management which has led to a number of serious deficits in the system today – including consultant shortages.

Prof Irvine will also call on health service management to pay heed to and deliver on plans for devolved, localised decision-making as part of Sláintecare – urging those at the top level to view the implementation of this approach as an opportunity to improve acute hospitals services for patients, rather than as a loss of control for central decision-makers.

With critical consultant contract talks ongoing, tomorrow’s conference is likely to hear of frustrations among medical specialists over years of unkept promises, despite unambiguous commitments from health leaders to resolve the root causes of recruitment and retention issues including reversing the pay discrimination imposed on consultants appointed since 2012.

It is understood that the contract talks are at a pivotal moment.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Prof. Irvine said:

“It’s been a year since I spoke at the last conference, warning that the collision of COVID-19 and an under-resourced heath system had backed us into a corner.

“One year on, and we find ourselves still with our backs against the wall. Almost 70,000 more people have been added to a waiting list which now stands at 907,617 and is likely to grow once new figures are published next week.

“The number of vacant consultant posts has increased by over 200, with over 700 positions now vacant or not filled as needed. And available bed capacity remains stuck on 2% which, as we face into the challenges of winter is a serious concern.

“We simply haven’t made enough progress, and while I acknowledge that we have been through a tumultuous period that has strained us all, it is also mission critical that we now assess what we have learned and how best to apply these insights to improve service delivery for our patients.

“For this to work, we need empathetic leadership that engages constructively with frontline hospital staff , resources to implement workable solutions to treat patients without delay,  and most of all trust. Unfortunately, trust levels between healthcare professionals and health service management are at an all-time low.

“Unless we change health service management culture, do the hard work of re-establishing trust, and improve working relationships, it is difficult to see how the Department can ever deliver an effective and empathetic public health service for the Irish people.”

Speakers at the virtual conference include the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, Opposition health spokesperson, David Cullinane TD, and Dr Stefanie Croghan, MRCSI, MSc, Specialist in Urology, RCSI.

The conference will also hear from a range of medical experts from across Ireland, as well as international medical specialists and experts with insights from Australia, Canada and the USA.

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