Consultant numbers could be held at 2,500
Department suggests a review of consultant numbers is on the cards in wake of increases in numbers in recent years, writes MARTIN WALL
THE DEPARTMENT of Health has suggested that now might be the time to “take stock” of the number of hospital consultants working in the public health system, given the growth in numbers in recent years.
It said that decisions regarding further increases in consultant numbers would need to “take account of the very serious financial situation” the country is facing and previously-announced Government policy to reduce public-service numbers in the future.
The Department of Health said other relevant factors included the need to achieve greater efficiencies in the organisation and delivery of services, and “to review the mix of specialities and workforce requirements more generally”.
The Department of Health statement came on foot of queries from this newspaper relating to comments made on the issue earlier this month by its secretary general, Ambrose McLoughlin.
At a question-and-answer session at a conference at the Institute of Public Administration, Dr McLoughlin said: “I think we have roughly the medical consultant level right at about 2,500.”
This appeared to be a new Department of Health position, as in mid September it said that the Government’s move to cut pay rates by 30 per cent for new entrants would “pave the way for the appointment of more consultants, which will directly enhance the care of patients in the health services”.
In its statement on the issue this week, the Department of Health said: “The secretary general was replying on the spot to a query about numbers of staff in the health services. His response reflects the fact that there has been a 31 per cent increase in consultant numbers since 2005 and the overall number of medical staff is also at a considerably higher level than some years ago, suggesting that it may now be time to ‘take stock’.
“The introduction of the new entry level pay rate for consultant appointments will facilitate the appointment of more consultants in the future. This can only be done having regard to cost effectiveness, the necessity to reduce public-service numbers in line with Government policy, and availability of financial resources.”
Despite the general moratorium on recruitment in the public service over recent years, the numbers of consultants has increased steadily, as such positions were, by and large, exempt from this measure.
The Department of Health said this week that in January 2005 there were 1,950 approved consultant posts but that this figure increased to 2,200 by July 2007 and currently stood at more than 2,570.
The Department of Health said its policy was to move to a consultant led/delivered service. “However, this is, of course, subject to the Government policy of achieving further significant reductions in health service staff numbers and the need for health spending to be further reduced in 2013 and 2014.”
Medical organisations have consistently argued that the number of consultants in the public-health service was insufficient and compared unfavourably with other European countries.
In 2003, the Hanly report on medical staffing, published by the then minister for health Micheál Martin said 3,600 consultants would be needed to operate a consultant-provided service.