Health system "on verge of collapse" - IMO

Increased investment urgently needed
  • Deborah Condon

Urgent action is needed to address the "ongoing crisis" in hospital capacity and doctor recruitment, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said.

Launching its pre-Budget submission, the organisation, which represents doctors nationwide, said that the Government must increase investment "if the health system is to survive a second surge of COVID-19, while continuing to deliver non-COVID care".

It insisted that shutting down care, which was done throughout the pandemic, "is not an option" given the impact of delayed diagnoses and treatments, and increasing waiting lists.

"Time and again, we have heard empty promises from politicians who cannot grasp the scale of the crisis in our health system. Now, with the additional pressures caused by COVID-19, they need to realise that our health system is on the verge of collapse and we need to act now," commented IMO president, Dr Padraig McGarry.

He pointed out that the Government's Winter Plan represents just 3% of the annual health budget and is a short term investment, up to March 2021.

"In a normal year, this investment would be welcome, but this will not be sufficient over the coming months as we prepare for a second surge of a virus that has already brought the country to a standstill.

"What we need to see in this Budget is a realistic commitment to a fully functioning healthcare system with appropriate funding," he commented.

Dr McGarry said that the IMO recognises the difficult fiscal position the country is currently in. However, he emphasised that during the last recession, the organisation warned that any health cutbacks "would be disastrous".

"Unfortunately our warnings were not heeded so we are appealing to Government not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We have to reimagine how we think about health expenditure - it is not a drain on our economy, but a vital service that is an enabler of our economic recovery," he said.

The IMO is calling for funding to achieve a number of measures, including:
-An increase in acute bed capacity, including a doubling of ICU capacity
-Addressing the inequitable pay issue facing consultants. Those employed after October 2012 are paid up to €50,000 less than their colleagues who were appointed before that date. The IMO believes that this pay disparity is having a direct impact on the HSE's ability to recruit and retain consultants. There are currently over 500 vacant consultant posts
- Supporting GPs to deliver what have become unmanageable levels of care in the community in a sustainable way
-Develop mental health services and invest in e-health to meet the needs of the community, particularly during the pandemic.

"There is not one area of the health service that has not been affected by COVID-19. The Government needs to wake up to the fact that nothing is more important than the health of our citizens. Irish people deserve a health system that can stand up to the challenges posed by this virus. We are all in this together, and as such we need a health system that can care for us all," Dr McGarry added.

Budget 2021 will be announced on October 13.


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