Health service failing critically ill patients – IHCA

Irish Hospital Consultant Association calls for more beds and specialist consultants

The health service is failing critically ill patients because of a lack of resources and staff in the intensive care units, hospital consultants have said.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said latest figures showed there were 35 whole-time equivalent consultant posts, when there needed to be 82.

The representative body called for an increase in the number of specialist consultants in intensive care and for an increase of bed capacity in the hospital units.

Speaking as part of the IHCA’s #CareCantWait campaign, Dr Tom Ryan, a consultant in intensive care and anaesthesia at St James’s Hospital, said Ireland had fewer than half, or 43 per cent, of the intensive care consultants needed to provide “the highest standards of specialist care for critically ill patients”.


He said: “There are so many knock-on effects of under-resourcing of our ICU services. During hospital surge periods, such as winter, there are often no ICU consultants or beds available for patients. Instead, critically ill patients are cared for in our emergency departments, or in theatre recovery areas while they await an ICU bed.”


An audit of ICU services, undertaken by the National Office of Clinical Audit in 2017, concluded that the shortage of ICU beds meant a level of bed occupancy which was “above the recommended levels for safe patient care and are likely to make staff retention more difficult”.

Dr Ryan said the specialist and resource shortage in this department “increases the risk that these patients will die”.

“Inadequate ICU consultant staffing and beds is driving longer wait times for surgery, particularly cancer surgery. Currently, almost one in four patients requiring cancer surgery do not have their procedure within the national targeted timeframes for such surgery,” he added.

The senior doctor said the current situation was making consultant positions in hospitals unattractive for young medics.

“Many junior doctors do not want to continue to work in a system which forces such choices. They are responding by emigrating en masse to work abroad in health systems that prioritise patient care and patient safety,” he said.

“The Government’s current approach is that consultants must ‘muddle through’. However, the mismatch between the resources and the actual clinical need means that IC services are inconsistent and do not reach the standards of excellence that patients deserve,” he said.

In response to questions, the Department of Health said the Government remained committed to recruiting consultants, adding that overall numbers employed by the HSE had increased.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times