'Unqualified' doctors are performing high-risk operations
Patients are being put in danger by some surgeons performing high-risk surgery even though they are not fully qualified specialists, doctors have warned.
These general surgeons, who have not completed full surgical training, are performing the riskiest emergency abdominal surgery, known as a laparotomy - which has a high death rate.
Dr Orla Franklin, a cardiologist in Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin, said that such surgeons "are practising solo" in some smaller hospitals around the country.
She was speaking after the annual meeting of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) was told that there are around 81 doctors working in various consultant jobs across the country, even though they have not completed full specialist training.
The IHCA said the reliance on these doctors is due to the failure to attract enough fully qualified senior medics to work here, as a result of pay and conditions.
However, Ken Mealy, president-elect of the Royal College of Surgeons, told the conference the vast majority of trainee surgeons simply don't want to work in smaller hospitals and are opting for bigger centres where they have more complex surgery with better rosters.
Mr Mealy, a surgeon in Waterford and HSE clinical lead, said general surgery is being performed in 26 hospitals in the country and this can't continue for safety reasons.
In 2015, a survey of general surgeons in the smaller hospitals found 37pc had not gone through full formal surgical training.
There is currently huge reliance on locum doctors in these hospitals, and this reliance is set to increase.
On average they are doing one to two of these high-risk abdominal surgeries a year.
He asked fellow medics: "Would you fly in an aeroplane knowing the pilot has only flown once that year?"
He warned: "We will not be able to staff general surgery on smaller hospitals in the future."
However, any proposed changes to small hospitals have led to political fallout for local TDs, who would have to withstand the public backlash over "downgrading".
Mr Mealy also told doctors that several hospital theatres are not being run productively, and surgeons themselves need to sign up to more efficient practices.
The theatres are shut down too early in the day and are lying idle, he said.
There are around 220 to 240 theatres in the country and even a 10pc increase in efficiency could lead to another 350 surgeries in the week.
This is essential if soaring waiting lists are to be tackled as the outsourcing of public patients - which has cost around half-a-billion euro over the past 10 years - is proving to be just a short-term solution which once it is over results in another rebound in delays.
"The onus on all of us is to be efficient because of the tsunami of demographic changes on the way," he added.
Hospital groups need to work as networks and appoint doctors who work in various hospitals, thereby maintain skills by seeing high volumes of patients.