Patients can lighten load of doctors, forum told


IN FUTURE people should get their flu vaccinations from pharmacies or nurses and go to physiotherapists with backaches or knee pains rather than to doctors, the secretary general of the Department of Health has suggested.

Speaking at a conference at the Institute of Public Administration yesterday, the secretary general of the Department of Health, Ambrose McLoughlin, also indicated that the country more or less had sufficient numbers of hospital consultants.

He also said he understood a new voluntary redundancy scheme in the health service was under consideration by the Government.

In a question-and-answer session, Mr McLoughlin said the health service was going to have to look very creatively at how services were delivered given that staffing levels were set to fall further in the years ahead.

“Really we need people to get their flu shots from their pharmacies or from nurses. We really need to have people go to physiotherapists with their backaches and knee pains rather than first going to doctors, and to think through in terms of chronic illness about how we engage with specialist nursing.”

Mr McLoughlin also said: “I think we have roughly the medical consultant level right at about 2,500.”

This appeared to be a new Department of Health position, as last month it said that the Government’s move to cut pay rates by 30 per cent for new entrants would “pave the way for the appointment of more consultants which will directly enhance the care of patients in the health services”.

Mr McLoughlin also said there was a need to get more from frontline physicians.

“The problem is not going to be solved in Ireland by simply talking about the bureaucrats. A lot of the bureaucrats have left the system. We do need some changes in terms of structures and need to deal with issues around the competencies required within the management grades.

“There will be a need for some form of what I would call a voluntary redundancy scheme, and I understand that that is under consideration.”

Mr McLoughlin told the conference that the level of absenteeism in the health system was neither affordable nor sustainable.

“During the August weekend, we had experience of ‘Olympic absenteeism’ . One of the hospitals in the State had 11 per cent of its staff absent. Nobody can run a business like that. We have to control absenteeism because that is the key to controlling the costs associated with overtime and agency .”

Mr McLoughlin said the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health were now “joined at the hip” – “We are going to work very effectively together. I want to make that message clear for everybody. The days of the HSE being on the one side of the house and the department being on the other are over.”

Mr McLoughlin said he was looking forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with the Oireachtas Health Committee. He said that was the way he and HSE director general-designate Tony O’Brien wanted to pursue their relationship with the Oireachtas.

However, he said this would have to be conducted within the norms that applied to such committees.

Earlier this month, both men were criticised by some members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee when they said they could not answer questions that strayed into policy areas.