Saturday 17 March 2018

Cancer patients having surgery cancelled, warns top consultant

Although inroads have been made in reducing the numbers of delayed discharges there are still not enough beds. Stock Image
Although inroads have been made in reducing the numbers of delayed discharges there are still not enough beds. Stock Image
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Cancer patients are now having their surgery cancelled "in significant numbers" as hospitals struggle to cope with overcrowding and a lack of beds and doctors.

They are among a growing number of patients whose essential surgery is suffering in over-burdened hospitals, Dr Tom Ryan, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), said.

Dr Ryan was part of a delegation of top doctors from the IHCA who issued the stark warning to Health Minister Simon Harris at a face-to-face meeting in recent days.

"The situation is urgent. We have been saying that for some time," Dr Ryan, who is an anaesthetist in St James's Hospital, said.

"Our capacity to deliver care has deteriorated to the point where surgical appointments for cancer patients are now being cancelled in significant numbers.

"The unresolved problems in our hospitals are now at such a critical level that patient care and safety is compromised on a daily basis. There are not enough hospital beds.

"Patients cannot get admitted for their surgery. There are times when there are not enough theatres open to perform the necessary surgeries and then there may not be enough intensive care unit beds."

He said the "current practice of healthcare rationing is the root cause of the trolley crisis and the ever growing waiting lists".

Although inroads have been made in reducing the numbers of delayed discharges - patients who no longer need hospital care but a nursing home or home care - there are still not enough beds.

There are also around 400 full-time posts for hospital consultants unfilled, with too many occupied by locum temporary doctors or agency staff.

At the same time the growing elderly population, who have heart disease, diabetes and chronic illnesses, are putting more demands on the system.

It means they had prolonged hospital stays, he pointed out.

Around one-in-five hospital consultants was over the age of 55 and they would be retiring in the coming years, he added.

"The problem needs to be tackled now. The longer it takes the more difficult it will be to fix it," he said.

The number of vacant consultant posts would not be filled with high-calibre permanent staff without more investment in pay and improved conditions, Dr Ryan added.

"In the absence of the necessary infrastructure and support services, and with persistent breaches of contracts by employers and discrimination against new entrants, consultants are resigning from their posts in increasing numbers to practise medicine elsewhere."

The hospital consultants' association's blunt warning to Mr Harris comes as one-in-seven people is in some form of hospital queue.

Meanwhile, the Irish Cancer Society, which holds its 30th annual fundraising Daffodil Day on Friday, said a combination of better treatments, improved detection and prevention, as well as research, had improved survival rates.

In 1997, some four-in-10 Irish cancer patients were alive five years after their diagnosis. Today, that figure is six-in-10.

Irish Independent

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