Concern over future surgical services

Ageing population a 'time bomb'
  • Deborah Condon

Ireland's health service is facing a ‘demographic time bomb', which will have a major impact on surgical services if not dealt with now, it has been claimed.

According to consultant surgeon and president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Mr Kenneth Mealy, 3,000 hospital beds per day are currently occupied by surgical patients.

"By 2046, if the system remains as it is and with Ireland's projected population and age profile, 5,500 beds a day will be required. Greater efficiencies are necessary because of the absolute imperative presented by our aging population.

"We have a choice to make. We can either start building more hospitals or we can make more efficient use of the bed days we currently have. We can see what's coming down the line here and we can plan for it," he commented.

Mr Mealy welcomed the publication of the Slaintecare plan, which he believes provides a more strategic approach to healthcare delivery. However, he said he was surprised that there is not much in the plan about the big variance in surgical services nationwide.

"When we see that one hospital can deal with gall bladder surgery as a day case whereas other hospitals admit patients overnight, we have to ask why. We need to look at the funding model and make sure that it's dis-incentivising inefficient practices. The rollout of an activity-based pricing model over the next number of years would go a long way to incentivise hospitals to manage their beds efficiently," he suggested.

While acknowledging the 'considerable challenges' facing the health service, he insisted that healthcare professionals 'strive every day to put patients at the centre of our work and to provide the highest standard of care'.

"But we also have a duty to make the most efficient use of the finite resources in the system, so that it has the capacity to provide sustainable high quality surgical care into the future," he added.

Mr Mealy made his comments at the recent Sir Peter Freyer Memorial Lecture and Surgical Symposium in Galway.


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