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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Consultant shortages causing 'a spiral of burnout, stress and emigration'

About one million patients in Ireland are on waiting lists to see a consultant.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Andrei_R

A SHORTAGE IN consultants in Irish hospitals is “perpetuating a spiral of burnout, stress and doctor emigration” and diminishing the quality of care received by patients.

That’s according to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, which is holding its annual conference in Dublin today.

Delegates at the conference heard that one in five of all consultant posts (500 jobs) are either unfilled or only temporarily filled, while about one million patients are on waiting lists to see a consultant.

Speaking at the event, Dr Gabrielle Colleran, IHCA Vice President, said: “Working in healthcare has always brought with it a level of stress, but in recent years this has been amplified by the deteriorating working conditions faced by doctors on the front line in our hospitals.

“These poor conditions mean that doctors cannot work to the best of their ability and are delivering less than optimal care to patients.”

Comparing doctors to pilots, Colleran said an airline “would not, and is actually prohibited, from allowing its pilots to work longer hours that is determined to be safe, but yet we expect our doctors to work in life-or-death situations, despite being overworked and under resourced”.

“Patients always take priority, but we also need to take better care of the wellbeing of those on the frontline,” she added.

Research undertaken by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland earlier this year found that a doctor is now twice as likely to take their own life than a member of the general public.

The research pinpointed several factors that cause doctor burnout such as staffing shortages, inability to take annual and sick leave due to such shortages, and inadequate replacement cover during leave.

Emigration 

The Medical Council’s most recent report on doctors leaving the Irish health service found that 700 specialists left Ireland between 2015 and 2017.

Dr Toby Gilbert, who emigrated from Ireland to Australia in 2012, told today’s conference:

Since I’ve left Ireland my former colleagues tell me that conditions for both patients and the doctors treating them have deteriorated further. Consultants like me want to return to Ireland to work but we cannot do so until conditions improve.

He called on the government to “tackle the consultant recruitment crisis” in Budget 2020, which is due to be published next month.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Health told TheJournal.ie the government “remains committed to increasing the consultant workforce”, adding: “It is important to state the number of consultants working in the Irish health services is continuing to increase.”

There are an additional 100 consultants working in the health service this year compared to last year, and over 500 additional consultants in the health service over the last five years.

“The majority of approximately 450 consultant posts not filled on a permanent basis are filled by locums or temporary staff to support the delivery of essential services,” they said.

On 2 September, the IHCA made a number of pre-Budget recommendations including the restoration of pay parity for all consultants appointed since October 2012.

On the same day, the HSE’s spending plan for the next three years – 250 projects are due to be delivered at a cost of €2.1 billion - was published.

Need help? Support is available:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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