Consultant workload 'unmanageable'

Patient care is being impacted
  • Deborah Condon

Hospital consultants have said that their workload in public hospitals is unmanageable and this is having a major impact on patient care.

Over 900 members of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) took part in a survey and according to its results, 90% of respondents described their current workload as unmanageable.

Around 60% said that their current workload is having a negative impact on the provision of care to patients, while 54% said that due to their excessive workload, the number of inpatients they are expected to provide care to is more than the recommended norm for their specialty.

When it comes to outpatients, this figure rises to 67%.

Meanwhile, in key diagnostic services, around 50% said that the number of patient scans they are required to report on is in excess of recommended norms.

"Ireland has one of the lowest number of hospital consultants in the OECD, at approximately half the OECD average.

"It is abundantly clear that our acute hospital and mental health services will increasingly fail our patients due to the 500 approved permanent consultant posts that cannot be filled because the Government has not restored pay parity for consultants appointed since 2012, unlike other public servants," commented IHCA President, Dr Donal O'Hanlon.

He said that as a result of these vacant posts, the vast majority of consultants are working in excess of their contracted hours, with over three quarters doing so ‘often' or ‘very often'.

According to the survey, in the last year, 77% of all consultants have been required to work additional hours on weekends and public holidays in addition to their normal working week. Some 28% have been working five hours or more per day on those weekends and public holidays, as well as being called into work throughout the rest of the day and night to provide emergency care to patients.

"With such workload pressures and the high number of vacant posts, it is not surprising that 70% of consultants say that their level of morale has unimproved over the past year. A majority of consultants (55%) also indicate that they have felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the past 12 months," Dr O'Hanlon noted.

He pointed out that in sectors where excessive working hours are a serious safety issue, such as the airline industry, strict regulations and appropriate staff numbers are in place, as the impact of fatigue and excessive workload is a recognised safety concern.

"The health service needs to ensure that its consultant staff are not overburdened and overstretched by the growing demand for care, combined with the inability to fill consultant posts because of a failed Government policy that is driving our much needed specialists abroad," Dr O'Hanlon added.


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