Health service failed to fill 100 advertised consultant posts between 2015 and 2017
Irish Medical Organisation estimates there are 1,400 fewer consultants employed than are needed
Research shows about 36% of GPs are over 55, and 20% of GPs who emigrate do not return. Photograph: Getty Images
The health service failed to fill 100 consultant posts advertised by the Public Appointments Service between 2015 and 2017.
Over three years the HSE was unable to fill up to one-third of consultant posts sought, including 39 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 31 last year, according to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).
During the timeframe 39 advertised hospital consultant posts received no applicants, and a further 153 received between one and two applicants only.
A HSE spokeswoman said the lowest number of applicants were for posts in psychiatry, emergency medicine, radiology and pathology. Smaller hospitals were also adversely affected.
According to the IHCA, the failure to recruit staff is having an adverse impact on most medical specialities and hospital types across the country.
“The shortage of consultants and the fact that approximately 450 approved permanent consultant posts [a full 15 per cent of the total] cannot be filled on a permanent basis is undermining the quality of care that can be provided to the public,” said IHCA secretary general Martin Varley.
“It is contributing to growing waiting lists for consultant outpatient appointments, and is overstretching the capacity of hospitals to provide the type of care that patients need and deserve.”
According to the IMO, Ireland is “precariously short” of doctors, with only 2.9 practising physicians per 1,000 population compared with an EU average of about 3.4.
Furthermore, there is a growing shortage of GPs in Ireland. As of July 1st, there were 26 unfilled vacancies for public GPs, new HSE figures show. This is an increase over the previous month, when there were 20 public GP panels that did not have a permanent GP in place.
In 2008 the average number of medical card patients per public GP was 680. In 2016 the figure was 868 public patients per GP, the IMO said.
Dr John O’Brien, president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said Ireland has 64 GPs per 100,000 population compared to 120 GPs per 100,000 population in Australia.
Deprived areas have even lower numbers of GPs per head of population, he said.
About 36 per cent of GPs are over 55, and 20 per cent of GPs who emigrate do not return, research shows.
Of the 2,500 GPs providing services to medical card patients nationally, 700 are over the age of 60 and 380 are under the age of 40.
Dr O’Brien said the figures show general practice is “going over the cliff”.
In reference to ongoing talks on a new contract for GPs and hopes that the contract could resolve the crisis, Dr O’Brien warned: “We’re beyond a new contract. I think we’re in a much more serious situation.”
He said about 2,500 more GPs were needed in Ireland, with an estimated 12 per cent growth in population forecast between 2016-2031, as well as growing demand from an ageing population and under-six children. Based on HSE projections, Ireland needs to train 300 GPs per annum, but only 194 were recruited in the past year.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that retaining and increasing the number of medical, consultant and nursing staff in the public health service was a “key priority” for the Minister for Health and the department.
“Notwithstanding recruitment and retention challenges, the number of consultants has increased by 113 in the 12 months to end May 2018 to 2,997 [whole time equivalents]; and by 479 in the past five years,” the spokesman said.
A HSE spokeswoman said 133 consultants have begun working with the HSE since January.