Patients will continue to languish on waiting lists until the Government tackles the “brain drain” of doctors leaving Ireland, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association has warned.
More than 620,000 patients are waiting to see a consultant or for follow-on treatment, the association warned as it began a social media campaign highlighting the lack of patient access to hospital care.
Some 20 per cent of all consultant posts remain unfilled, or are filled on a temporary basis, as 700 specialists have left the Irish health services for posts abroad in recent years.
The #CareCantWait campaign will highlight the role of consultant shortages in driving up waiting times for consultant appointments and the commencement of treatment.
Ireland has the lowest level in the EU of consultants working in our health service – 43 per cent below the average across Europe. Many of the clinical areas with the highest number of consultant shortages and unfilled posts are also those with the largest numbers of patients waiting to see a consultant, according to the IHCA.
In dermatology, for example, 44,000 patients are waiting for an initial appointment but Ireland has only one-third of the numbers of consultants it needs. There are 23,000 adults, and more than 5,000 children, waiting for an appointment in cardiology, but Ireland has just 25 per cent of specialists compared to the EU average.
IHCA vice-presient Dr Laura Durcan said improvements could happen now that would have an impact in reducing the waiting lists.
“One of the most impactful and immediate of these is ending the ‘brain drain’ of newly-qualified consultants from Ireland,” she said.
“We are calling on the Government to sit down with the IHCA and work with us to end the brain drain and ensure that Ireland is an attractive place to have a medical career.”
Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a radiologist at Temple Street University Children's Hospital, said it was "immoral" that Ireland was training more medical students than any other European country for its size, many of whom emigrated, while importing large number of doctors from other countries who then did not get on training schemes.
Staff shortages, consultant pay cuts that have not been reversed, case complexity as the population ages, and a “difficult” medico-legal environment were among the challenges faced by specialists working in the Irish health service.
She said it was “normal” for her to be up several times during the night when oncall, yet the filling of even a small number of vacant consultant posts could help make significant inroads into waiting lists.