IMO warns that hospital overcrowding is a ‘persistent and grave danger to patients’
Wednesday, March 9th, 2022
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) will today (Wednesday) warn the Oireachtas Committee on Health that the scale of hospital overcrowding in Ireland represents a persistent and grave danger to patients which cannot be ignored.
Representing the IMO, Dr. Mick Molloy, Emergency Department (ED) Consultant and member of the IMO Consultant Committee tells the Committee that our record hospital waiting lists are the direct results of the failure by successive governments to invest in bed capacity, infrastructure and the medical workforce to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population.
The IMO believes that without concerted and sustained investment across our health system the overcrowding problem will never be adequately addressed and patients will continue to be in “grave danger”.
Dr. Molloy said; “When the present Taoiseach was Minister for Health over 20 years ago the bed capacity need was identified at 5,000 more beds. Since that time there has been little positive growth in capacity yet our population has grown by more than a million people and we are now at a point of frightening waiting lists, inability to deliver timely care and too few doctors in the system. This represents a real and grave threat to patients.”
The IMO will warn that not only does Ireland compare extremely poorly to our international counterparts with regard to beds per population and bed occupancy rates, but this is exacerbated by the crisis in our medical workforce. 20% of consultant posts across the country are unfilled, and we continue to rely on Non-Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs) to fill service requirements while working unsafe and illegal hours.
“Patients’ lives are at risk, and we can no longer accept the status quo. Emergency Department overcrowding is associated with increased mortality (within 30 days) and poorer outcomes for patients, while it also impacts on staff with doctors across the health service experiencing high levels of stress and burnout.”
Dr. Molloy will tell the Committee that Covid-19 is not an excuse for the overcrowding crisis. “Covid-19 exposed the fragility of our health services but did not cause it. The absence of any surge capacity within our health system meant that non-urgent care was cancelled while staff absences, combined with requirements for infection control, reduced capacity even further. It is important to note that the policy of cancelling elective care was in place before Covid, as the HSE’s full capacity protocol has been in operation in many hospitals on a 24/7 basis.
“After the initial wave of Covid-19, the IMO met with the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 on a number of occasions and proposed to Government a range of measures to address the deficits in our health services, but despite two years of the pandemic little action has been taken. This is not good enough.”
Dr. Molloy says that urgent and simultaneous investment is needed in the following areas:
- Urgent investment in acute bed capacity and infrastructure including:
- Immediate investment in temporary modular builds
- Develop finance and implement a multi-annual capital investment programme in acute bed capacity to include:
- 5,000 additional public acute beds;
- investment in stand-alone public hospitals for elective care and
- increase critical care capacity to 550 critical care beds;
- Immediate action taken to recruit and retain doctors to work in the health service, including targeted measures to address our unprecedented number of Consultant vacancies including ;
- Immediate reversal of the unequal two-tier pay system for consultants and the negotiation of a new fit for purpose contract to attract consultants to a career in the HSE
- Increase the number of specialist training posts to meet future medical workforce requirements – a 38% increase in training posts is required to meet future medical workforce requirements but there is no plan to implement this.
- Ongoing investment in the health and social care needs of older people.
- Continued investment in the development of General Practice including:
- Supports for new and established to employ additional GPs, practice nurses and other support staff;
- Investment in a programme of GP care for nursing home patients that reflects the complexity of care required.