Excessive workload affecting patient care, say doctors

Survey finds 90% of consultants in public hospitals believe workload ‘unmanageable’

Photograph:  Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock


The excessive workload of consultants in public hospitals is impacting on patient care, senior doctors have said.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said about 90 per cent of members surveyed believed their current workload was “unmanageable”.

IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon said that more than half (54 per cent) of the 900 consultants who took part in the survey claimed the number of in-patients they were expected to care for in hospitals was higher than the recommended norm for their speciality.

He said 67 per cent of consultants believed the number of out-patients was also higher than the recommended norms.

The IHCA said the survey findings confirmed that “the current consultant recruitment and retention crisis is severely damaging access to care for patients”.

Dr O’Hanlon said in sectors where excessive working hours represented a serious safety issue, such as the airline industry, strict regulations and appropriate staff numbers were in place, as the impact of fatigue and excessive workload was a recognised concern.

“The health service needs to ensure that its consultant staff are not overburdened and overstretched by the growing demand for care, combined with the inability to fill consultant posts because of a failed Government policy that is driving our much-needed specialists abroad,” he said.

“It is abundantly clear that our acute hospital and mental health services will increasingly fail our patients due to the 500 approved permanent consultant posts that cannot be filled because the Government has not restored pay parity for consultants appointed since 2012 unlike other public servants.”

The association said that as a consequence of the vacant posts, the vast majority of consultants are working in excess of their contracted hours, with over three quarters of respondents to its survey doing so often or very often.

The IHCA said 87 per cent of medical specialists who took part in the survey said the standard of patient care has deteriorated due to a lack of suitably-qualified consultants to fill vacant posts in public hospitals.

“Almost all (95 per cent) identify the ongoing pay discrimination against new hospital consultants as the root cause of the failure to fill one in five permanent consultant posts in our public hospitals.”