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.
As we face into a third year with Covid and struggle to provide non-Covid care in an extremely challenging environment, the hope for 2022 is that the hard work and dedication of consultants and their medical teams, together with the resilience of the public and the ongoing roll-out of the booster vaccines, will mean that the darkest days of the pandemic are behind us.
Even before the pandemic struck, our public hospital and mental health services were in an exposed position because successive governments had not addressed gaping capacity deficits over the past decade. Unfortunately, the Winter Plan and Budget 2022 have failed to adequately address these shortfalls.
There are overwhelming shortages of acute beds throughout our hospital and mental health services. After almost two years of the pandemic and many additional billions of euros allocated to the HSE budget, we have fewer ICU beds on a population basis than in 2009.
Our public hospitals are stretched dangerously beyond their capacity limits. This is resulting in unacceptable knock-on effects on the provision of non-Covid care. As a result, there is grave concern that public hospital waiting lists will continue to increase, heading towards 1 million people waiting for hospital treatment.
Any medium-term Government plan to address the record waiting lists which does not simultaneously address the Consultant recruitment and retention crisis is destined to fail. Our patients deserve plans from Government that are practical and will deliver the care they need. It is therefore essential that the Consultant contract negotiations deliver on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ made by the Minister for Health to end the pay inequity imposed on consultants contracted since 2012. This is crucial if we are to restore trust in the system and attract and recruit the highly trained specialists needed to fill the one in five permanent hospital consultant posts across the country that are either vacant or filled on a temporary basis.
Rebuilding trust with consultants would be a good start to the new year. It is essential to create fertile ground for us to develop and implement practical solutions that are needed to address the pressing challenges we collectively face in these most challenging of times.
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