Overwhelming capacity problems in health service

Consultants express concern
  • Deborah Condon

Hospital consultants have expressed major concern about ongoing capacity deficits within the country's public hospitals and mental health services.

According to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), the capacity problems within the Irish health service are ‘overwhelming', yet there is a complacency in addressing them.

While there has been a reduction in the number of patients left waiting on hospital trolleys when compared to this time last year, the IHCA noted that this ‘is being presented as something akin to significant progress'.

"It is unacceptable that in a developed economy such as Ireland, hundreds of critically ill patients who are admitted to hospitals on a daily basis cannot be provided with a bed and are being treated on trolleys. In 2018 over 108,000 ill patients were admitted to hospital, yet had to wait on a hospital trolley for an acute bed to become available. This is the highest number ever," commented IHCA president, Dr Donal O'Hanlon.

He pointed out that many elective surgery appointments have been deferred in most hospitals for part or all of January because of the ‘extreme capacity deficits'. There are currently some 70,000 patients on surgical waiting lists.

For example, in St James's Hospital, which is the largest cancer hospital in the country, four out of 13 operating theatres are closed because of bed and staff shortages. It is currently only providing emergency operations and essential cancer surgeries.

In University Hospital Limerick, all elective surgeries were stopped between December 21 and January 7. Further extensive curtailment is expected in the coming weeks due to bed shortages. Meanwhile in Cork University Hospital, operating theatres were closed for two weeks over the Christmas period unless it was an emergency.

The IHCA insisted that the two main capacity deficits in public hospitals are a severe shortage of beds and the high number of permanent consultant posts that cannot be filled. It said that a realistic plan needs to be developed to expand hospital bed capacity by 2,600 beds over the next five years.

Meanwhile, with over 500,000 people waiting for consultant outpatient appointments, vacant consultant posts need to be filled ‘without delay'.

Dr O'Hanlon said that the Government's current policy, which sees new consultants earning less for doing the same job, 'is driving highly trained specialists abroad and exacerbating the crisis'.

He added that if this issue is not addressed now, it will cause ‘irreparable damage that will affect patient care for decades'.

 


Discussions on this topic are now closed.