HSE warns hospital services to be hit by junior doctor shortage
A major shortage of junior doctors will hit frontline services hard in 2011, the Health Service Executive (HSE) warned yesterday.
HSE chief executive Cathal Magee admitted it would be an "immense challenge" to maintain acute and specialised services with almost €1bn less in its budget for next year.
The budget concerns are being compounded by a shortage of junior doctors, also known as non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs), and the moratorium on recruitment in the public service.
"There is a national shortage of NCHDs, which could challenge the delivery of acute services in 2011," Mr Magee said at the launch of its plan for 2011. However, the HSE outlined extensive international recruitment efforts combined with a new two-year contract, which would see NCHDs assigned to regions rather than a specific hospital. The particular hospitals at risk of shortages were not pinpointed but it highlighted the north-east as key area of concern.
A "worst-case scenario" plan has been drawn up, which would see junior doctors from another adequately staffed hospital providing cover.
The shortage has been linked to a number of factors, including changes to work permit requirements for non-EU doctors and it is more difficult to recruit staff to some of the smaller, more rural hospitals.
Stephen McMahon, spokesman for the Irish Patients' Association, said this would be a "big challenge".
Mr Magee, who is on a total package of €335,913, refused to reveal whether he would be taking a voluntary pay cut after Finance Minister Brian Lenihan introduced a €250,000 basic salary cap for employees of state bodies.
He said he would not be commenting until they received a "formal communication" from the department.
Health Minister Mary Harney, who approved the plan, sought the appointment by the HSE early next year of a clinical leader to work on the development of the much-touted new National Children's Hospital.
The HSE outlined its new national clinical programmes including an 'acute medicine' programme, which would help ensure patients were not kept in major teaching hospitals when they could be treated in local or regional facilities.
The number of people admitted to hospital is expected to be reduced by 2pc with a 3pc increase in the number of people treated as day cases.
Labour spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said the plan to reduce in-patient admissions would only work if the resources were already in place to cope.
In its service plan for 2011, the HSE outlined government funding at €13.4bn next year, with a gross drop in funding of €962m from a direct budget cut of €683m and additional costs of €279m from the mounting pensions and medical card bill.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Clare TD Joe Carey claimed a HSE survey showed the Mid-West Regional Hospital in Limerick was struggling to cope with extra demands on its services due to the removal of 24-hours A&E services at Ennis General Hospital.
The HSE HealthStat gave the hospital in Limerick a 'red' rating, indicating they required urgent attention in terms of waiting times and resources.