The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (Monday, 12 August) called on Minister Harris to arrange talks to begin resolving the current consultant recruitment and retention crisis.
According to data published by the Medical Council in April, 700 specialists left the Irish health service between 2016 and 2017, with no evidence that this rate of brain drain has decreased in the interim.
Currently, one in five, or over 500 permanent consultant posts, are either empty or temporarily filled across the health service.
Earlier this month, Minister Harris committed to commencing talks with consultant representative bodies next month. However, similar pledges were made in October 2018 and again in March and April of this year, with no substantive talks as of yet.
The IHCA has cautioned against any further delays in these talks commencing, especially, because of the direct impact which the consultant shortage is now having on the delivery of health services.
Figures released late on Friday afternoon indicated that the numbers of patients waiting to see a hospital consultant is now over 565,000, with an average growth of almost 7,000 patients joining the waiting lists on a monthly basis since the start of the year.
Since 2014, the numbers waiting has grown by 200,000, a 54 per cent increase over the period.
The consultant recruitment and retention crisis is a significant factor in both the growth of the number of patients waiting to see a hospital consultant and the increase in the length of time they wait to get an outpatient appointment. Equally, the consultant shortage is impacting across many other aspects of healthcare delivery.
Recently, Phase One of the National of the Children’s Hospital, the new Urgent Care Centre at Connolly Hospital, could not open on the originally planned full-time basis , due to a failure to recruit sufficient numbers of consultants.
Dr. Laura Durcan, Consultant Rheumatologist, has stated: “…patients have learned to think that it’s okay to sit for years on a waiting list and the consultants of Ireland have come to a point where they have to stand up and say it’s not ok for patients to wait for years. None of this is ok, you should be able to access timely care.”
Two examples cited by Dr. Durcan include urology and dermatology wait times.
For urology, there are currently over 30,000 patients waiting to see a consultant and of these almost 13,000 have been waiting more than 12 months. While for dermatology, there are almost 46,000 patients waiting to see a consultant, with over 14,000 waiting more than a year.
There are many other examples with equally staggeringly high numbers of patients waiting such as cardiology with over 24,000 or gynaecology with more than 28,000 women waiting for a consultant appointment.