Some 2,000 new hospital beds are needed during the first two years of the next Government, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said.
With the General Election 2020 campaign now in full swing, the president of the IMO, Dr Padraig McGarry, warned that politicians "are quick to make unrealistic promises" during these campaigns. However, he called on all parties to focus on the real issues "rather than engaging in empty electioneering".
"We are facing a health system crisis that needs real solutions for the sake of our patients," Dr McGarry insisted.
The IMO highlighted three main problems within the health system and offered potential solutions to these problems.
The first major problem is overcrowding, which the IMO said is due to the removal of hundreds of hospital beds from the system a decade ago. This has left Ireland's rapidly ageing population with the fourth-lowest hospital bed per capita ratio in Europe.
Irish hospitals are now commonly operating at dangerously high capacity rates and patients are being left waiting for beds for long periods.
The IMO insisted that until there are an adequate amount of beds in the system, the number of patients on trolleys will continue to grow. As a solution, it is calling for "an accelerated programme of investment in acute hospital capacity of at least 5,000 beds to meet patient demand and to ensure doctors can treat patients in a timely manner".
It said that 2,000 of these beds should be made available within the next two years, however this will require "significant upfront investment and recruitment of doctors and other healthcare staff".
The second major problem is that there are too few consultants and this is causing "havoc" throughout the health service. Over 550,000 patients are currently on outpatient waiting lists to see a consultant, while a further 210,000 are waiting for inpatient, day case or follow-on procedures.
The IMO has repeatedly insisted that the recruitment and retention crisis among consultants is a direct result of the Government's decision in 2012 to cut the pay of new consultants.
As it currently stands, consultants employed after October 2012 are paid up to €50,000 less than their colleagues who were appointed before that date. The IMO has continually insisted that this action has led to "widespread emigration among young doctors and the unprecedented inability of the HSE to attract doctors to apply for available consultant positions".
It is calling for the reversal of this 2012 decision and a new consultant contract.
The third major problem is a capacity crisis at GP level. The IMO said that there are too few GPs, resulting in major pressure on the service, and many patients now unable to register with a new GP. GPs also do not have timely access to diagnostic services for patients.
As a solution, the IMO is calling for accelerated resourcing of GP services and an overhaul of the Out-of-Hours service.
It said that grants need to be given to young GPs to help them establish new practices, and existing practices should be given grants to help them to recruit additional medical staff.
Dr McGarry criticised politicians for talking about expanding services without the proper infrastructure in place.
"They need to sensibly prioritise what we can realistically achieve for the good of all patients rather than promising everything to every person in the hope of winning votes," he said.
He also criticised politicians for "hiding behind Sláintecare".
"This has become a shield for them to deflect any meaningful talk of how to fix the health system right now. We cannot wait any longer. Our health system is in chaos and we cannot continue as we have up to this point. Patients and our medical workforce deserve better from our politicians," Dr McGarry added.
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