Inability to recruit doctors will lead to increased waiting lists, says union

IMO member says number of people on waiting list could reach one million

Currently, there are over 900,000 people on a waiting list to access some form of medical care.

Currently, there are over 900,000 people on a waiting list to access some form of medical care.

 

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said the number of people waiting for healthcare in Ireland will keep increasing if chronic understaffing is not addressed.

Currently, there are over 900,000 people on a waiting list to access some form of medical care.

However, a member of the IMO said today that “no doctor would be surprised” if the waiting list reached one million in the coming months.

The union warned that the inability to attract applicants to vacant posts across all medical specialities is having a “serious detrimental effect” on the provision of healthcare in Ireland.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the IMO said that Ireland has significantly less consultants and GPs per head of population when compared to the OECD average.

The IMO also claimed that the HSE failed to attract a single candidate to some advertised posts, and more than one in five consultant posts remain vacant.

Non Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs), which are doctors in training, continue to emigrate at high levels, according to the union.

The Medical Council register indicates that 3,000 doctors left Ireland over the past five years to take up positions abroad.

The union said that NCHDs are “regularly forced” to work in excess of legal working limits to fill in staffing gaps, and there is a need for more training places across all specialities.

International doctors who want to work in Ireland also face ongoing problems with visa applications, the statement said.

Almost 30 per cent of consultants and GPs are due to retire in the next five years, which will only add to the crisis.

There are not enough doctors to fill critically important consultant positions across Ireland, according to Dr Clive Kilgallen, chair of the consultants’ committee of the IMO.

Dr Kilgallen claimed this problem stems from two-tier consultant pay, which was enacted in 2012.

“Patients are the ones who have suffered as a result. The scale and scope of the problem cannot be overstated; over 900,000 people are on some form of waiting list for treatment, and over 290,000 of those - or more than the population of Galway - have been there for more than a year.”

Dr Kilgallen added that there are too few beds, too few health professionals and an ever-increasing demand for care. “No doctor will be surprised if the waiting list goes beyond a million over the coming months. The pandemic has not caused the crisis in our healthcare system, but it has deepened it.”

General practice

Dr Denis McCauley, chair of the GP committee of the IMO, said that without serious reform, the numbers of doctors entering general practice will continue to decline.

“GPs around the country have been unable to secure locums to allow them to take annual leave, there are no supports to encourage younger GPs to establish in practice, and the additional out of hours burden on individual GPs is taking its toll,” said Dr McCauley.

The current contract between the HSE and GPs “does not reflect modern general practice”, according to Dr McCauley.

“We must urgently address the systemic issues that are making the speciality unattractive to our new graduates, particularly in areas of a service resourcing sustainable workload, work-life balance and family-friendly arrangements.”

According to the IMO just under 30 per cent of all GMS GPs, who see patients with medical and GP visit cards, are aged 60 or over, which will lead to problems in the future.

In a statement, the HSE said that as of October 1st there were around 2,500 GPs in Ireland. It said there are 22 vacant GMS panels, and just over half of these vacancies are in rural areas.

“These vacant panels represent less than 1 per cent of GMS panels, and cover is arranged via a locum or other appropriate arrangement to maintain services in the communities until the vacant panel is filled.”

The HSE also said the Rural Practice Support Framework Allowance was introduced in 2016.

“Under this support framework, GPs receive an annual allowance of up to €22,000, the maximum subsidy rates for practice support staff and enhanced locum expenses contributions for annual, sick, study and maternity leave.”

The HSE also said that the 2019 GP Agreement “provides significant enhancements to contractual arrangements in place with GPs”, including the provision of an additional 18 GP training places this year, and the introduction of a Social Deprivation Support Grant.

The HSE said that based on the most recent Medical Workforce Report, 30 percent of consultants are aged 55 and over, and 13 per cent are 60 and over.

“Many, including GPs, work beyond age 65, and working off the assumption that all those above the age of 55 will retire would not be accurate,” they said in a statement.

The HSE added that 93 per cent of approved consultant posts are filled, “regardless of tenure, both permanent and locum.”

“The true vacancy rate i.e. a vacant post that the hospital has verified as currently vacant is 6.5 percent.”