The Irish Hospital Consultants Association was founded with the twin aims of advocating for quality care for our patients and providing representation for Consultants. The importance of both objectives has been heightened in recent times due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Association continues to highlight the deteriorating capacity deficits in our public hospitals to Government and the need for practical, sustainable solutions that will address the record waiting lists. The priority actions the Government must address urgently are the 900 permanent Consultant posts that are not filled as needed and the severe shortage of hospital beds, theatres, diagnostic and other facilities to provide timely care to those who need it and the almost 1 million on waiting lists.
Unfortunately, motivation to fix the problems in Ireland’s health system is waning, at a time when energy should be firmly behind implementing the practical solutions. We know what the problems are, and we know what is required to fix them. We need the beds and the Consultants to treat patients in a timely manner.
The consistent failure of Government to deliver on its undertakings in successive plans, budgets and Ministerial unambiguous commitments is leading to the continued exodus of medical and surgical talent abroad and increased waiting times.
Despite the immense pressures placed on those on the frontline at the height of Covid, there was a semblance of hope that its impact would be a catalyst to finally tackle the obvious problems. Instead, another year and momentum has been lost, resulting in worsening patient wait times.
The solution is obvious: we must recruit and appoint additional Consultants without delay. Addressing the Consultant recruitment and retention crisis and making our public hospitals sufficiently attractive in an era of increased international competition is essential to attract the number and calibre of specialists they need. This can be achieved if the Government ends the discrimination imposed on Hospital Consultants appointed since October 2012.
The Consultant contract negotiations need to result in a contract that will work in practice. Those negotiations must restore trust by honouring the ‘unambiguous commitment’ made by the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to end the 2012 pay discrimination. The onus is now on the Government to provide attractive working conditions in our health service, for our existing Consultants, our Consultants in training and the new medical talent we want to attract into permanent posts. If the opportunity is not availed of it will be lost to the detriment of the population that depends on public hospital services.
The health service is at a critical juncture, with decisions made around both the Cabinet and the negotiation table pointing it in one of two directions. One direction involves implementing the practical, sustainable solutions as proposed by the Association; the other ignores the practical, workable solutions resulting in unacceptable waiting times and poorer patient outcomes.
The Association’s Pre-Budget Submission for Budget 2023 provide the reasons and recommendations. Give us the essential resources, the capacity and the Consultants to treat our patients on time. The ask has not changed over the past number of years. The response must realistically provide the resources we need, or public hospital care will deteriorate. A focus of my presidency is to ensure that response is the right one.
The Association launched its #CareCantWait campaign in 2019 to highlight patients’ continuing lack of access to public hospital care and increasing waiting times for consultant appointments and treatment. The campaign encourages patients, the public and those working in healthcare to support the Association’s call to address the Consultant salary inequity imposed unilaterally by the Government in 2012 on new appointees, as this is the root cause of Ireland's Consultant recruitment and retention crisis and the unacceptable numbers of people on record waiting lists.
I ask you to explore the #CareCantWait campaign and support us in advocating for patients and their families.
Prof Robert Landers, President