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Consultants call for urgent action as 860,000 sit on waiting lists for care

The IHCA said today that the HSE’s national service plan is welcome but “does not match the scale of the problem”.

THE HSE MUST urgently prioritise reducing waiting lists and outline a plan to enable hospitals to cope in the coming months heading into next winter, the Irish Hospitals Consultants Association (IHCA) has said. 

Recruitment to fill vacant consultant posts and a commitment to increase acute bed capacity will be essential in achieving this goal going forward, the consultants group said.

Failure to do would create a “secondary crisis of missed care”, it added. 

The calls form part of the IHCA’s response to the HSE’s National Service Plan 2021 which was announced earlier this week

The National Service Plan for the HSE details how it will spend the €20.623 billion allocated to it for 2021. This is an increase of €3.5 billion, or 21% on the 2020 National Service Plan.

HSE CEO Paul Reid said a “significant” recruitment campaign forms a core part of the plan. 

NPHET has also told the government this month that reducing waiting lists will be essential as pressure from Covid-19 on hospitals eases.

The IHCA said today that the plan is welcome but “does not match the scale of the problem or meaningfully address current hospital waiting lists that are spiralling out of control”. 

While the HSE has said it plans to recruit an additional 16,000 staff this year, no target has been set for the number of additional hospital consultants to be appointed this year, it said.

Official targets for the percentage of people waiting less than a year for their outpatient appointment (from 80% to 75%) will be difficult to meet according to the consultants group. 

With waiting lists at this level, coupled with the likely effect Covid-19 could have on the health service next winter according to the government’s Living with Covid plan, this could put the hospital system to “breaking point once again if current long-term capacity issues are not resolved”. 

IHCA President Alan Irvine said: “While the expanded resources in the HSE National Service Plan are welcome, it does not go far enough to reduce the significant waiting lists we face and that continue to grow.

“This is a major concern given that the number of patients waiting over a year or longer for hospital treatment is now double the figure prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and for those waiting longer than 15 months it is 250 times higher than in 2014.

While government has committed record funding levels for health in 2021, until this money is channelled effectively and speedily to where it will make the most difference for patients – through the recruitment of additional Consultants with supporting teams and infrastructure – our public hospitals will continue to have record waiting lists and struggle to address the backlog of treatment due to Covid.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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