Sharp population hikes make Sláintecare out-of-date, conference told

Population rose to more than five million this year, almost the levels which State health strategy forecast for 2026

Ireland’s population is racing in advance of forecasts in the State’s Sláintecare health strategy, increasing the challenges of delivering medical service reform, the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) annual general meeting, has been told.

The strategy aimed at delivering universal healthcare in place of the current two-tier, private and public systems was launched in 2017. A major goal in the strategy is tackling the difference in waiting times for public and private patients.

However, at the opening of the conference in Dublin on Saturday, UCC health researcher and lecturer in economics Dr Brian Turner warned population targets in Sláintecare were already out of date.

He said that in April of this year, when the census was taken, the population rose to more than five million, almost the levels which Sláintecare forecast for 2026.


Such a difference he said, had serious implications for planning the delivery of universal healthcare and he said he called for a review of the strategy, based on population change.

While numbers alone presented significant challenges for the health service, Dr Turner said other challenges were pressing, including the recent Covid-19 pandemic and its long-term potential to impact on the delivery of services. Dr Turner also said the cost-of-living crisis and the capacity of the construction industry to deliver much needed infrastructure were among challenges facing the sector.

IHCA President, Professor Rob Landers, said that “demand has long since outstripped supply when it comes to acute hospital care” and called for a “laser-like focus” on the two things every patient relies upon most — beds and Consultants.

The IHCA has previously warned that some 5,000 hospital beds are needed by 2030, alongside significant increases in consultant staffing levels to treat patients. It claims Ireland has 40 per cent less hospital specialists than the EU average and more than 900 permanent posts vacant, or filled on a temporary basis.

Prof Landers said ‘’we do everything we can and should do to help, often in partnership with our health and social care colleagues. Because that is what we do. But the sustainability of such realities — for patients and us as the ones they depend upon are in focus like never before. The risk of blowout is crystallising.’’

“Studies undertaken by colleagues have quantified that almost eight in every 10 Consultants are screening positive for burnout. You look at the numbers — some 910,000 people waiting to be assessed and treated by a hospital consultant, over 900 permanent hospital consultant posts unfilled, and you worry”, he said. “When you see the working conditions and demands placed on people in a hospital environment, in particular non-consultant doctors who are in the formative part of their careers, you worry”, he said.

Dr Rob Hendry medical director with Medical Protection, which supports medical professionals on legal and ethical problems, said clinicians who made errors — such as failing to order the correct tests for a patient — frequently asked themselves how they could have made such simple errors. But he said burnout and frustration were very often factors.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist