Waiting lists in the country's public hospitals are ‘out of control', doctors have claimed.
According to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), there are now over 589,000 people on waiting lists and ‘there is no sign that these numbers are going to decrease'.
"Waiting lists are spiralling out of control because there is not enough capacity in the system. Public hospitals urgently need additional acute beds, intensive care beds, theatre operating time, consultants and other frontline staff.
"This is essential to reduce the unacceptable waiting lists, the overcrowding of emergency departments and the increasing number of patients being treated on trolleys. Currently our healthcare system appears to be more focused on balancing budgets and rationing care than treating patients," commented IHCA president, Dr Tom Ryan.
He made his comments to coincide with the launch of the IHCA's pre-Budget submission.
Dr Ryan noted that Ireland's population has increased by 12% in the last 12 years, while the population of those over the age of 65 has jumped by 35%. As a result, more people than ever require healthcare, ‘and the upcoming Budget must reflect this reality'.
"Throughout the past decade, the State has severely rationed healthcare. With an increasing number of patients becoming reliant on private hospitals, in effect, acute hospital services are being privatised by stealth. Notably the private hospitals understand the increase in existing and future demand for healthcare services and have expanded their bed capacity, unlike the public hospitals," he said.
Dr Ryan pointed out that this situation ‘did not arise overnight', but he warned that waiting lists are now increasing at ‘an alarming rate' as a result of ongoing healthcare cuts over the years.
"In addition, lack of acute hospital capacity is impacting adversely on essential surgical appointments, which have declined by over 100,000 (54%) in four years, and on the delivery of timely cancer care to patients. Urgent action is needed to prevent the health system descending into chaos," he insisted.
The IHCA has said that resources must be redirected to increase acute hospital and mental health frontline capacity. The pre-Budget submission notes that mental health services are severely understaffed and remain funded at 15% below 2008 levels.
It also highlights the recruitment and retention crisis among consultants. Over 400 approved hospital consultant posts are currently either vacant or filled on a temporary/agency basis.
The submission also highlights the need to address the increasing cost of clinical indemnity, which the IHCA claims is forcing consultants to emigrate or cease practicing.
The pre-Budget submission states that the relevant provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 must be commenced without further delay, so that the Pre-Action Protocols are implemented to resolve clinical indemnity claims more efficiently and at a reduced cost.
Budget 2018 will be announced in October.