Doctors forced to 'ration' ICU care due to lack of beds and staff
Intensive care services are being "rationed" because of a shortage of ICU staff and beds, according to consultants.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said only 35 out of 82 intensive care posts had been filled and there were only 249 ICU beds, 40 fewer than 10 years ago.
It said health services were failing the most critically ill patients with many forced to wait in emergency departments as there were no ICU beds, and cancer patients having their surgery cancelled at short notice.
Tom Ryan, a consultant in intensive care and anaesthesia, said: "There are so many knock-on effects of under- resourcing of our ICU services.
"Emergency departments are not the appropriate care setting for seriously ill patients and this practice increases the risk that these patients will die.
"Inadequate ICU consultant staffing and beds is driving longer wait times for surgery, particularly cancer surgery. Currently, almost one in four patients (22pc) requiring cancer surgery do not have their procedure within the national targeted time-frames for such surgery.
"Many require ICU care post-surgery and frequently there are not enough consultants or beds available to provide such care.
"As a result, too often, cancer surgery may be cancelled on the morning of the proposed surgery because a patient with a life-threatening illness must be prioritised.
"Such rationing of intensive care services undermines the quality of care provided to both critically ill patients and patients who need major cancer surgery.
"Patients with sepsis also suffer when their access to intensive care is delayed. In wintertime, when the ICUs are particularly stretched, consultants are obliged to choose which patient will receive appropriate care."
Dr Ryan was speaking as part of the IHCA's Care Can't Wait campaign, which is raising awareness of a shortfall in staffing in ICUs across the country.
He said many junior doctors are emigrating "en masse" to work abroad in health systems which prioritise patient care.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The Government remains committed to recruiting consultants with overall numbers employed by the HSE having increased."
The HSE had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to print.