21 days to A&E meltdown
The country is now just 21 days away from an A&E meltdown.
The failure to recruit enough doctors means casualty units will be in crisis next month.
Health Minister James Reilly has admitted some A&E units "cannot be safely manned" from July 11. It's feared an average of one-in-three doctors needed in casualty departments will be missing.
Hundreds of junior doctors' posts have not been filled in the frontline units.
Minister Reilly conceded emergency departments will "struggle" to fill junior doctor posts.
Hospitals across Dublin and the rest of the country may have to curtail services due to a chronic shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors after July 11 -- the date when doctors are rotated between posts .
The minister said efforts are being made to address the problem, but admitted smaller hospitals will struggle.
There are deep concerns that closing smaller hospitals will lead to larger A&E units, which are already at breaking point, being swamped by patients.
Deep concerns about patient safety has been raised as health authorities continue efforts to deal with the staffing crisis.
It is now feared that locums will have to be retained to staff bigger hospitals. The HSE may no longer continue to fund agency staff to keep smaller emergency departments open.
Minister Reilly said the staff shortage was so bad that Irish consultants were sent abroad to interview doctors for the vacant posts.
They identified 400 suitable candidates but only 10pc of them were prepared to travel to Ireland.
The reluctance of foreign doctors to come here stems from a number of factors, including the number of exams they were required to sit and issues concerning registration in Ireland.
The minister is addressing these matters, he said. Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said today that staff shortages also applied to specialist nurses. There are shortages in intensive care, intensive coronary care, and burns units.
The shortage of doctors could also hit the Mid-Western Hospital in Limerick where the A&E has been threatened with closure each night from July 12.
Consultant Fergal Cummins said by July 11, half of the Limerick staff complement – junior doctors and non-consultant doctors – would no longer be working there.
Stephen McMahon, chairman of the Irish Patients Association, said: “The smaller A&E departments will definitely be affected. If large numbers of people go to A&E and there are not enough doctors then it will be very serious for patient safety.”
Health Minister Dr James Reilly told the Herald today: “I have mobilised all available resources to address this problem.
“I know time is short but this is the number one priority in the health service in the next few days and all the relevant bodies, including the Medical Council, are firmly committed to resolving this potential crisis in a way that will deliver safe and quality care.”