Monday 23 September 2019

Over 80 doctors working as hospital consultants who do not have full specialist training

Patient safety at risk, consultants' AGM told

MEDICAL DILEMMA: IHCA secretary general Martin Varley. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
MEDICAL DILEMMA: IHCA secretary general Martin Varley. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Public patients are being treated by 81 doctors working as hospital consultants who do not have full specialist training, it was revealed yesterday.

This has implications for competence and patient safety, the annual meeting of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) was told.

The figures were released last week to the doctors' organisation by the HSE under a Freedom of Information request, secretary general Martin Varley told the gathering in Limerick. He said the necessity to provide medical cover was due to the failure to get enough fully qualified consultants to apply for posts in Irish hospitals.

IHCA president Dr Tom Ryan, an anaesthetist at St James's Hospital, warned that critically ill patients were dying because they were forced to stay in A&E departments when they should be in an intensive care unit.

They are relying on life support machines in emergency departments for hours because there are not enough intensive care beds.

Waiting lists for outpatient appointments are at an unprecedented level and are now in excess of 500,000 - five times the population of Limerick, he added.

"Patients with commonplace medical and surgical problems are waiting years to see a consultant.

"At the same time, the level of surgery being carried out on waiting list patients has halved in the last four years.

"So in 2016, we performed about half the number of hip replacements of the OECD average and much less than half the knee replacements.

"Unless this trend is reversed, our acute hospitals will stop performing planned surgery altogether within the next few years."

Hospitals need more robotic assisted surgeries to reduce waiting lists and shorten patients' hospital stays, he added.

He said robotic assisted surgery was mostly available in private hospitals and led to better patient outcomes. But there was just one of these technologies available in a public hospital in Limerick.

The technique involves a surgeon directing a robot by computer. It is one of the areas where hospitals are lagging behind. Cuts to hospital budgets in the last decade have left many hospitals struggling with obsolete equipment.

Speaking about the proposal to move more patient care to the community, he warned about shunting people who need to see a specialist back to a GP. He insisted there was too much wishful thinking in the Slaintecare report, the blueprint for the future of the health service, which aims for a one-tier system.

It would have no divide between public and private wait.

Dr Ryan warned against plans to phase out the treatment of private patients in public hospitals. This would take out more than €600m income from public hospitals but also hit the earning power of consultants.

The IHCA said more doctors would take flight if this was implemented.

Health Minister Simon Harris, who addressed the conference, reiterated that he would carry out an impact study before deciding if the removal of private hospitals from public hospitals should proceed.

He promised the days of health cuts were over.

He called on doctors to back his efforts to pass legislation to curb alcohol abuse by highlighting its harm. He said the best the drinks industry could come up with was accusing him of cancelling Christmas by banning the Guinness Christmas ad.

Referring to the trolley crisis, he said attendances were up 2.6pc at emergency departments overall this year. Attendances by those over 75 were up 5.5pc. "Despite this context, there has been a slight improvement in most of the patient experience targets," he said." He said Tuesday's Budget would have more money for the health service, including €55m to tackle hospital waiting lists.

Sunday Independent

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