Over 550,000 waiting to see a consultant as '500 recruits needed to clear the backlog'
The gruelling wait faced by public patients for surgery or an out-patient appointment and the failure to fill one-in-five consultant posts are the targets of a new social media campaign launched today.
The #CareCantWait campaign is aimed at linking the failure to recruit specialists to fill around 500 consultant posts to the huge numbers of public patients in out-patient and surgical queues.
A spokeswoman for the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said the campaign will run over the next few months.
It will emphasise the impact of long waiting times on Irish patients, while also encouraging patients, the public and those working in healthcare to support the IHCA's call for the Government to act to address consultant shortages across our health services.
More than 550,000 patients were waiting to see a consultant for an out-patient appointment, while 70,000 who had been assessed by a consultant were waiting for follow-on treatment.
"The IHCA believes that both the lack of access and increasing wait times are being exacerbated by the fact that almost one in five permanent consultant posts in our public health service are either unfilled or filled by temporary appointments," it said.
"Added to this, Ireland has the lowest EU level of consultants working in our health service - 43pc below the EU average.
"Unsurprisingly, many of the areas with the highest number of consultant shortages and unfilled posts are also those with the largest numbers of patients waiting to see a consultant."
The IHCA pointed out that 44,000 people are waiting for an initial appointment with a dermatologist.
Ireland has only one-third of the numbers of consultants it needs in this area.
Around 23,000 adults are waiting for an out-patient appointment and 5,000-plus children are also waiting to see a cardiologist. Ireland has only 25pc of cardiologists compared to the EU average.
More than 21,000 patients are waiting to see a neurologist, with over 5,000 of those waiting longer than 18 months. Ireland has only a quarter of the number it needs.
The figures come as it emerged that 4,000 patients over 75 had to wait on ED trolleys for more than 24 hours in the first three months of the year.
IHCA vice-president Dr Laura Durcan, who is a consultant rheumatologist, said: "Disease does not operate to a schedule: the longer the wait, the more likely it is that a sick patient's health will deteriorate further.
"While the commissioning of an additional 2,600 acute hospital beds will take a decade according to existing plans, other important improvements that can happen now will have an impact in reducing the size of these waiting lists.
"One of the most impactful and immediate of these is ending the 'brain drain' of newly qualified consultants.
"A recent Medical Council report found that over the period 2015 to 2017, over 700 specialists either left Ireland to work abroad or left the profession.
"Furthermore, almost one in five consultant posts - almost 500 - are either unfilled or filled by a temporary appointment.
"We are calling on the Government to sit down with the IHCA and work with us to end the brain drain and ensure that Ireland is an attractive place to have a medical career.
"Our message to Minister Harris is clear: care can't wait."