The standard of care in public hospitals is deteriorating sharply and this is impacting patient safety, hospital consultants believe.
Over 900 consultants were surveyed by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) in order to get their views on current levels of care. Almost nine in 10 respondents agreed that a lack of suitably qualified consultants has led to a decline in patient care standards.
Meanwhile, around three in four respondents said that waiting times have deteriorated over the last year as a result of vacant consultant posts, and most do not believe waiting times will improve in the immediate future.
Almost nine in 10 also agreed that hospitals will be unable to sustain current levels of clinical services if the crisis surrounding the recruitment and retention of consultants is not urgently resolved.
According to the IHCA, the failure to fill vacant consultant posts in public hospitals is due to the ongoing pay discrimination against new consultants. Consultants who began working after October 1, 2012, are currently paid 30% less than their colleagues who were hired before that date.
"These survey results are stark and overwhelming. Patient care and safety is being damaged due to Government policy, which has resulted in one-fifth of the permanent consultant posts in our hospitals being unfilled.
"Ultimately patients are paying the price and it is no coincidence that we have some of the longest hospital waiting lists in Europe, with over 500,000 people waiting for consultant outpatient appointments," commented IHCA President, Dr Donal O'Hanlon.
The survey noted that over half of respondents could identify up to three permanent consultant posts in their specialty in their hospital that were being filled on a temporary, locum or agency basis. At least one in 10 could identify four or more such posts.
Over half of respondents also said that they are not confident that any vacancy in their specialty will be filled by a suitably qualified candidate.
"The health service has failed to fill up to one-third of the consultant posts advertised in recent years, and more than one third of posts advertised received zero or just one application. This is directly due to the deliberate Government discrimination against new entrant consultants," Dr O'Hanlon insisted.
He called on the Government to end this discrimination by restoring pay parity, ‘so that the required number of highly trained specialists are attracted to take up the increasing number of vacant consultant posts in our hospitals'.
"All patients need timely high-quality care and this is not possible without the required number of consultants," he added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.