Introduction

President's WelcomeRRP 9339 0570

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 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Providing acute hospital care to patients while living alongside COVID-19 presents significant challenges because of the overwhelming public hospital capacity deficits that have existed over the past decade due to the lack of investment. These significant deficits have been exacerbated by the backlog of patients due to the pandemic. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted in the starkest terms the capacity deficits in our acute hospital and mental health services.

Despite record numbers of people on NTPF waiting lists, it is expected that the number who need essential acute hospital care could be far greater, as the waiting lists at the time of writing in September did not yet include all those who have had their care disrupted or postponed seeking care and referrals to hospitals for appointments in the previous six months.

The Government must urgently expand public hospital capacity by opening the recommended additional 2,600 acute public hospital beds, doubling the number of ICU beds to the 579 recommended a decade ago, and providing the additional 4,500 community step-down and rehab beds in the shortest possible timeframe. Given the new physical distancing rules, infection control requirements and need to reduce our bed occupancy rates, our inpatient units, outpatient facilities and Emergency Departments are all under increased pressure and required this additional capacity.

The Government also urgently needs to fill the 500 permanent hospital consultant posts that are now vacant in view of the challenges our acute hospital services have endured and taking account of the greater challenges in the months and year ahead. The Consultant salary inequity imposed unilaterally by the Government in 2012 must be ended as it is the root cause of Ireland’s consultant recruitment and retention crisis and, by extension, the unacceptable numbers of people on record waiting lists. The Government must restore pay parity immediately to fill the 500 permanent Consultant posts that are vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis.

This year has been very stressful for Consultants who have experienced extreme work demands during the coronavirus crisis. More Consultants have been required for several years to alleviate the excessive workload being carried by understaffed medical teams. This is even more pressing now in view of the backlog of patients on waiting lists who require assessment and treatment.

The IHCA has engaged with the new Minister for Health and the Government to prioritise urgently the funding, development and implementation of practical plans and workable solutions to expand our public hospital capacity and community step-down services to provide more-timely patient care. Now is the time to frontload the beds planned in the National Development Plan and to finally address the Consultant recruitment and retention crisis.

Consultants and their medical teams have been front and centre providing care to patients in an extremely challenging environment throughout 2020. We know that we will always step up to the mark when the need arises; we now need to see this commitment and professionalism matched by Government through pay equality, increased capacity and more efficient running of our acute hospitals and mental health services. We all appreciate the gratitude which our patients and their families have expressed during what was an extremely challenging year. This appreciation needs to be built on with proper resourcing of our acute public hospital and mental health services.

The Association launched its #CareCantWait campaign in June 2019 to highlight patients’ continuing lack of access to acute 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 for Government to restore pay parity for new Consultants to ensure that vacant Consultant posts are filled in order that timely care can be provided to the population.

I ask you to explore the #CareCantWait campaign and support us in advocating for patients and their families.

Prof Alan Irvine, President

2 CareCantWait

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