Doctors are calling for a complete revision of the health budget in order to avoid a ‘further deterioration' in public health services.
According to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents doctors nationwide, questions must now be asked about the capacity of the traditional budgetary process to deal with the increasing problems faced by health services.
"We are now seeing the cumulative impact of almost a decade of austerity in the health services, an ageing population and a manpower crisis among doctors. Any of these challenges would be difficult to address in isolation. Together they are potentially devastating," commented IMO president, Dr Ann Hogan, at the launch of the organisation's pre-Budget submission.
She noted that a common theme across all services is a recruitment crisis, which is leading to a major shortfall in the number of doctors who should be working. She insisted that while there are other problems too, ‘unless we can address the manpower crisis, we won't be able to fix anything at all'.
The pre-Budget submission highlights a number of serious issues, including:
-An expected shortage of over 2,000 GPs by 2025, as hundreds of current GPs are due to retire in the coming years. Cuts introduced during the economic crisis have resulted in fewer resources for GPs and this has led to the emigration of many prospective GPs
-The number of patients waiting more than a year for an outpatient consultant appointment has doubled since last year. The IMO insists that this is directly linked to the fact that Ireland has the lowest number of doctors per capita in the EU. There are 1,600 fewer consultants working in public health services than should be according to the most recent targets set out in the Hanley Report on Medical Staffing. Up to 400 approved consultant posts remain unfilled, or are filled on a temporary basis by locum staff. The main reasons for this are pay and conditions, which are behind those available in the rest of the English-speaking world.
-Bed occupancy rates in hospitals are far higher than recommended and this poses a risk to patient mortality. The IMO is calling for the immediate replacement of around 1,500 inpatient beds, which have been removed from the public hospital system since 2007, with financial provision also being made for additional beds, pending the outcome of the Department of Health's bed capacity review.
Budget 2018 will be announced on October 10.