IHCA – Urgent action needed to address public hospital capacity deficits and Consultant vacancies
- Over 879,000 people on some form of NTPF waiting list, including 96,000 children;
- 114 people added to public hospital waiting lists every single day throughout 2021;
- Over 100% increases in outpatient and inpatient/day case waiting lists at some public hospitals over the past 12 months;
- One-in-five permanent hospital consultant posts remain vacant or are filled on a temporary basis.
IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine: “More people were waiting for hospital treatment at the end of 2021 than at the start of the year, despite a four-month action plan from Government to address the issue. This is simply not good enough, irrespective of the pressures we are facing during this latest Covid wave…we must give priority to it.”
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (Friday, 14 January 2022) warned that the Government must not let another year pass by without addressing the twin deficits of a shortage of consultants and a lack of sufficient public hospital capacity that is resulting in continued record waiting lists.
The warning comes as 879,277 people are now on some form of National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) waiting list, including 96,094 children.* This is an increase of over 40,600 in the past year, or around 114 people added to public hospital waiting lists every single day throughout 2021.
The latest NTPF figures released today reveal the hospitals which saw the highest increases in outpatient waiting lists in 2021 include:
- Cork University Maternity Hospital (101%)
- Coombe Women’s & Infants Hospital (30%)
- St John’s Hospital, Limerick (28%)
- St Columcille’s, Loughlinstown (24%)
- Cork University Hospital (24%)
- Mayo University Hospital (22%)
These increases come despite the Government’s four-month waiting list action plan** from September to December 2021. The waiting lists in the three categories (outpatients, inpatient/day cases and GI endoscopies) which were targeted in the plan have increased by 8,812 over the past year to 720,056.
The IHCA says that apparent inroads made towards the end of the year in reducing the outpatient, inpatient/day case and GI endoscopy waiting lists are offset by increases in other lists for planned procedures, pre-admissions and inpatient and outpatient suspensions maintained by the NTPF but not widely publicised, which increased by more than 31,700 (25%) in 2021 and now total 159,221.
The Outpatient Suspensions waiting list*** for example has increased by a shocking 188% since the first set of figures in this new category were published at the end of January 2021, and now totals 20,009 people.
Consultants have challenged such short-term waiting lists initiatives from Government as failing to acknowledge the specialist staffing needed to deliver sustainable reductions in the current unacceptable public hospital waiting lists. To provide care to the almost 1 million people currently waiting for public hospital treatment across the country, the capacity deficits need to be addressed without delay.
According to the IHCA, ongoing consultant and bed shortages, both of which are around 40% below the EU average, combined with the pandemic have resulted in sizeable increases over the past 12 months in inpatient/day case waiting lists, particularly in: Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar (145%); University Hospital Kerry (79%); and Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda (63%).
Consultants have raised their concerns that these latest figures still may not account for the true unmet demand for treatment as they do not take account of all those who have postponed their essential care and referrals to acute public hospitals during the pandemic. They say the impact is becoming more evident through significant increases in the number of emergency presentations of conditions such as cancer and mental health crises over the past year.
Consultants have renewed their call on Government to effectively address the record hospital waiting lists by ending the discrimination introduced in 2012 against consultants appointed after that date, thereby increasing consultant staffing levels and providing the health service with the ability to provide patients with timely access to essential care.
Commenting on today’s NTPF figures, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:
“More people were waiting for hospital treatment at the end of 2021 than at the start of the year, despite a four-month action plan from Government to address the issue. These waiting lists are not being brought under control quick enough and the lack of progress in the past year is really damning.
“Unfortunately, with the recent increases in Covid cases, overcrowding in our Emergency Departments and widespread cancellation of essential scheduled care and outpatient appointments, there is little prospect of the waiting list coming under control anytime soon. This is simply not good enough, irrespective of the pressures we are facing during this latest Covid wave.
“114 people are being added to a waiting list every day in this country – a shocking fact that we cannot ignore and must give serious priority to.
“More worryingly, due to the pressures faced in the system, some of these people will be described erroneously as ‘non-urgent’ cases and have their scheduled appointments cancelled. Their conditions will only become more serious and difficult to treat the longer they are left waiting – often in pain, suffering and facing the psychological distress of not knowing when they will be able to receive care.
“It is essential that the Minister Stephen Donnelly delivers on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ he has made repeatedly to restore pay parity for all Consultants contracted since 2012. This is crucial if public hospitals are to attract and recruit the highly trained specialists needed to fill the one in five permanent hospital consultant posts across the country that are either vacant or filled on a temporary basis and finally reduce these unacceptable waiting lists.”
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