Extra caution needed to protect public and hospitals from latest Covid wave
Cancelling essential scheduled surgeries, diagnostic investigations, and outpatient appointments cannot be the go-to solution to hospital capacity deficits
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (25 March 2022) urged the public to use a higher degree of caution over the coming weeks given the widespread community transmission of the coronavirus and the resulting increase in hospitalisations.
The Association said it would encourage the 700,000 people yet to receive a third booster vaccine dose to consider doing so in order not only to protect themselves and their families against serious illness, but also to protect those who are at highest risk of harm from Covid-19 and the most vulnerable in society.
An increased awareness among the public of the impact of this latest wave of the pandemic could also help protect the health service from buckling under the strain of record emergency presentations and increased Covid activity in our hospitals.
Commenting on the impact of the current wave of the pandemic, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:
“Once again, the massive capacity deficits in our public hospitals means that they cannot cope with the high number of people currently presenting at our emergency departments and the surge in Covid activity in hospitals, without having to cancel essential scheduled surgeries, diagnostic investigations, and outpatient appointments. This cannot be the go-to solution to our hospital capacity deficits.
“There is continuous commentary about the health service being under pressure but other than short-term, unsustainable solutions, like cancelling scheduled essential care, not enough is being done to actually increase our public hospital capacity and put in place sustainable solutions to ensure the provision of timely care to patients as needed. Cancelling essential surgeries will only increase record waiting lists even further.
“We recognise the need, after two years of the pandemic, to manage living alongside Covid-19, but at this point we should be in a much better position in terms of having the required hospital capacity to meet the current demand for care. However, in the absence of Government action to increase our public hospital capacity, the public may once again have to play its part in getting this latest surge under control.
“Anyone in hospital who tests positive for Covid-19 has to be treated on a Covid ward, which restricts what care can be given to other medical or surgical patients.
“In addition, having 5,000 health staff out due to Covid has a devastating impact on the delivery of timely care to patients.
“These workforce pressures are not helped by the fact that the number of approved Consultant posts that are vacant or filled on a temporary, locum or agency basis has reached an all-time high of 837 posts.
“The vacancies and the shortage of Consultants have resulted in excessive workloads being carried by understaffed medical and surgical teams to the detriment of patients. Unfortunately, there has been no let-up in the workload pressures being faced by this exhausted cohort of staff.
“In order to fill these record number of vacant Consultant posts, the Government must reverse the flawed decision to cut the pay of Consultants appointed after 2012 and end the pay disparity immediately.
“It also must appoint a new Independent Chair, agreed with the representative organisations, to oversee the new Consultant contract negotiations, which have stalled by the State with no engagement since last December.”