Government's inability to cut waiting time for patients 'will cost lives'
Thousands of patients on public waiting lists are at risk of a worse outcome or dying because of delayed treatment, a doctors' conference was told.
Dr Gabrielle Colleran, vice president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said the outpatient waiting list of more than 560,000 is leaving patients getting more ill because of the delay and then ending up with a worse outcome when they are treated.
"Some of those people will die because of that wait. We don't know how many people this affects. If you can't access care and you get worse, there is the risk of that," she said.
Speaking at the annual conference of the IHCA, she said: "Even if that is less than 1pc of those people, that is potentially over 5,000 people."
She pointed out that if a doctor was negligent in acting in a timely manner for patients, they would be referred to the Medical Council.
"But where is the duty of care from the Government to take action and who is going to hold them to account?" she asked.
The risk of hospital consultants taking industrial action over their long-running pay dispute involving new recruits has increased.
A large gathering of specialists who attended the annual meeting at the weekend voted in favour of taking all "necessary measures" in the campaign. Hospital doctors recruited since 2012 are on salaries which are around €50,000 lower than those hired before that date.
Although the motion did not specify industrial action, it will be among a range of next steps which will have to be discussed by the IHCA's national council.
Secretary general Martin Varley said he hoped the Government would "not push" doctors into industrial action.
"We will, as a council, have to look at what are the possibilities if the Government does not act. The politicians are talking, but not taking action. This is driving our highly trained specialists abroad and impacting on patient care."
He said it was the "next big issue" after Brexit, because more than a million people are on public waiting lists.
He said any action would not discommode patients or put them risk. There are more than 500 unfilled consultant posts in hospital, and the IHCA said the pay gap was a contributory factor.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who did not attend the conference due to a "diary issue", had previously said talks on the pay gap would start this month.
However, the Government will have to find around €40m to bridge the shortfall of around 30pc. Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly and Sinn Féin said their parties would pay the doctors extra if they were in government.