Service in need of radiographers

 

A serious shortage of radiographers is curtailing the amount of X-ray services available in hospitals throughout the State, the Irish Institute of Radiography (IIR) has said.

Staff shortage means several hospitals have "a programme of rolling closures" already in place during which CT, MRI and ultrasound scanning can only operate on alternate days, Mr Liam Murray, the IIR president, said.

One Dublin hospital has 18 radiographer vacancies and almost all Dublin hospitals are down 10 to 20 per cent of the radiographers needed, he said. The problem is compounded by unnecessary X-ray referrals, and two-fifths of X-rays do not benefit the patient, he said. Hospitals and GPs applying IIR guidelines on whether an X-ray would be useful had led to a 30 per cent drop in referrals.

Large city hospitals find it difficult to recruit staff due to "traffic congestion and lack of affordable accommodation". Smaller hospitals are "viewed as unattractive because of the onerous on-call commitment". He said the shortage is due to a "long overdue regional expansion" of imaging services, coupled with the more widespread availability of additional services, like the new CT, or t he breast-screening programme.

The staff shortage is worldwide, Mr Murray said, and the IIR is advertising abroad, in countries with radiographer shortages. They, in turn, are advertising in the State.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health yesterday confirmed plans to divert one in five non-emergency cases to GPs and new central GP units.

Part of the national health strategy to be published later this year means upgraded accident and emergency (A&E) units will be installed in major cities.

In St Columcille's Hospital, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, evening surgery continues to be cancelled due to the nurses' pay dispute. Six ambulance calls in the past week have been diverted to St Vincent's Hospital, two of which were referred back to Loughlinstown after assessments.

Last week theatre nurses, who are members of the Irish Nurses' Organisation (INO), refused to work on call. Surgery after 4.30 p.m. was cancelled.

A spokesman said the INO was seeking a renegotiation of the national nursing on-call rate.

Ms Noreen Browne, the INO industrial relations officer, said a 1999 Labour Court recommendation allowed employers to deal with the issue locally.