Hospital patient care standards falling, doctors warn

Staff shortages lead most consultants to believe hospitals unable to sustain service levels

Recruiting and retaining specialist doctors  is a major problem, a survey by the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association has found. Photograph:  Anthony Devlin/PA

Recruiting and retaining specialist doctors is a major problem, a survey by the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association has found. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

 

The standard of patient care in public hospitals is deteriorating sharply due to a shortage of suitably qualified consultant staff, doctors have warned.

The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) said a survey of 900 members showed nearly 90 per cent of them believe their hospitals would be unable to sustain existing levels of services if the problems in recruiting and retaining specialist doctors was not resolved urgently.

The association said the same number maintained the lack of suitably qualified consultants was resulting in a decline in the standard of patient care.

Consultants also forecast that in-patient, outpatient and diagnostic waiting lists would get worse in the year ahead.

IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon said the survey findings were stark.

Care and safety

“Patient care and safety is being damaged due to Government policy which has resulted in one-fifth of the permanent consultant posts in our hospitals being unfilled.

“Ultimately patients are paying the price. It is no coincidence that we have some of the longest hospital waiting lists in Europe, with over 500,000 people waiting for consultant outpatient appointments. Government policy is destroying the fabric of hospital care for patients in Ireland. ”

The IHCA said that 95 per cent of members believed the failure to fill permanent consultant positions in hospitals was due to the lower salaries in place for consultants appointed in recent years, compared with longer-serving colleagues.

Waiting times

It said three-quarters of consultants who responded to the survey believed patient waiting times had all deteriorated over the past year due to vacant posts.

“Consultants do not believe waiting times will improve in the immediate future, with 80 per cent confirming that patients will see waiting lists for outpatient consultant appointments increase over the next 12 months if consultant posts are not filled. Waiting lists for in-patient/day-case appointments and diagnostics are also expected to increase, according to 72 per cent and 73 per cent respectively of those surveyed.”

Last week, Minister of State at the Department of Health Jim Daly – standing in for Minister for Health Simon Harris – said tackling the two-tier pay system for hospital consultants would be challenging given the potential costs involved. He said it had been accepted that there was a disparity in new-entrant pay for consultants and the Government would like to see it addressed. However, he said, there was “no pot of endless money there” .