Hospitals facing ‘staffing meltdown’ due to doctor shortage

Delays in treating patients in emergency depts predicted


Hospital emergency departments (EDs) are facing a “staffing meltdown” next month because of difficulties recruiting qualified doctors, according to the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine.

The association says that over the past five years it has become “increasingly difficult” to staff the country’s 30 EDs. The problem will become “worse than ever” after the changeover of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs), due to take place next month.

The association say that while some EDs have so far avoided major difficulties with recruitment, “few if any EDs will not be short of their normal complement of junior staff come mid July”.

NCHDs are rotated between posts on July 14th as part of their training as junior doctors. The Health Service Executive has struggled in recent years to fill all vacant posts because of a shortage of junior doctors. Emigration among Irish doctors is increasing and there is intense competition between health services in many countries for talented staff.

In previous years, the HSE has targeted India and Pakistan, and South Africa, to plug the gap in the Irish health service arising from a shortage of junior doctors. This year, it has indicated that recruitment is being stepped up in eastern Europe.

“While the Department of Health and the HSE acknowledge that there are some ‘challenges’ with recruitment, they seem to fail to appreciate the extent of the problem and its likely implications for patients,” the association says.

Where gaps appear in the roster, this will inevitably lead to more delays in the treatment of patients, it says. “This places patients at increased risk of avoidable poor outcomes and will also heap further pressure upon the remaining medical and nursing staff in EDs.”

The association say many Irish graduates are now training and working abroad, especially in Australia, “in preference to working in overcrowded and poorly staffed EDs in Ireland”.

“If this potentially lost generation of medical graduates is to be attracted back to Ireland, then the underlying problems of poor levels of staffing, comparably poor terms and conditions of employment, inadequate numbers of consultants, poor infrastructure and persistent ED overcrowding need to be rapidly addressed.”

“Urgent steps” need to be taken to more effectively recruit doctors from around the world, it says, and the time taken to process applications needs to be shortened.