Cancer charity calls for inquiry into reports of cancelled surgeries

Staff shortages resulting in compromised care on daily basis, Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association says

Hospital consultants said yesterday the problems were at such a critical level that patient care and safety was compromised ‘on a daily basis’.

Hospital consultants said yesterday the problems were at such a critical level that patient care and safety was compromised ‘on a daily basis’.


The Irish Cancer Society has called for an urgent investigation into reports that cancer surgeries are being cancelled due to staff shortages in the State’s hospitals.

Hospital consultants said yesterday the problems were at such a critical level that patient care and safety was compromised “on a daily basis”.

President of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) Dr Tom Ryan said the capacity to deliver care had deteriorated “to the point where surgical appointments for cancer patients are now being cancelled in significant numbers”.

The cancer charity wrote to the director of the National Cancer Control Programme Dr Jerome Coffey on Monday and urged him “to swiftly carry out an investigation into the reported surgical delays in some of Ireland’s designated cancer centres”.

“Cancer patients experiencing delays to treatment undergo significant additional stress and upset and this may impact their recovery,” the charity said in a statement.

“The Irish Cancer Society’s primary goal is that the world-class quality and safety standards we have come to expect of our cancer services are being maintained and that patients are completely confident with their care plan.

“For this reason, it is essential that the delayed publication of the National Cancer Strategy is expedited as a matter of urgency.”

The IHCA met Minister for Health Simon Harris last Thursday to discuss what it said were urgent priorities for Ireland’s hospitals.

It said Dr Ryan had “highlighted the stark realities of clinical practice in the acute hospitals, and the difficulties which consultants face in their attempts to provide care to an ever increasing number of critically ill patients, without the necessary resources”.

Dr Ryan said on Sunday that any realistic plan to relieve emergency department overcrowding, and to address the growing waiting lists, must include an increase in acute hospital bed and operating theatre capacities, otherwise the health service would continue to fail the public.

“Our acute health services are also failing patients as we have over 400 permanent consultant posts vacant, or filled on a temporary or agency basis,” he said.

“In the absence of the necessary infrastructure and support services, and with persistent breaches of contracts by employers and discrimination against new entrants, consultants are resigning from their posts in increasing numbers to practise medicine elsewhere.”

Dr Ryan, an anaesthetist at St James’s Hospital, the the vacant posts would not be filled with the high calibre permanent consultants that were required to develop an effective, integrated health service, unless there was investment in both our hospitals and doctors.

He welcomed the Minister’s acknowledgement of the scale of the consultant recruitment and retention crisis.

“This must be addressed in the forthcoming pay review, if we are to succeed in attracting hospital consultants in a highly competitive global market.”

Dr Ryan said the consultants’ organisation had also told the Minister of “the urgent need to overhaul the governance of our health service”.

He said accountability and transparency must be improved at all levels of planning and execution in the health service.

“Our health system must become more responsive to our patients’ needs. Current bureaucratic structures and processes are failing to adapt to the needs of the growing number of our patients and are no longer fit for purpose. To prioritise the needs of our patients, there must be a greater emphasis on clinical leadership in all aspects of health care.”

There was a “real opportunity” in the proposed 10-year healthcare strategy to address the critical shortage of hospital beds, support services and frontline staff, Dr Ryan added.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke programme on Monday, he said: “We’ve known about this position for years. The problem has evolved over the past decade as beds declined by 1,400 while the population increased by half a million people.”

He said there were 400 unfilled consultant positions (out of 2,500) and that as more retired there would be a need to recruit a further 800 consultants in the next few years.

“Jobs are becoming unattractive because the medical community are big on networking, it is known which jobs are underfunded and under resourced so they don’t apply.”