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IMO to warn Oireachtas Covid committee that health services ‘facing perfect storm’

The IMO will today warn the special Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 that the pandemic’s effect on healthcare will result in negative health outcomes unless immediate and sustained investment in building capacity is undertaken. The meeting is scheduled for midday. 

Representatives from the IMO will warn that an investment programme is urgently needed to:

  • Provide 5,000 additional public acute beds and at least 300 intensive care beds;
  • Recruit 1,600 additional consultants. According to the union, the “two-tier consultant pay issue must be resolved in order to recruit and retain consultants”;
  • Strengthen public health capacity 
  • Proactively support general practice in the shift of care to the community setting;
  • Improve care for older persons; 
  • Invest in eHealth; and
  • Invest in prevention, whereby community medical staffing levels must be increased, a total population flu vaccination programme must be initiated in general practice and investment in diagnostics and treatment pathways are needed to support the full re-establishment of screening programmes.  

According to the IMO, such an investment programme must include the building of temporary facilities to increase capacity quickly, as well as longer-term projects such as standalone public hospitals for elective care.  

The IMO will warn that the health system is facing a perfect storm, with legacy issues such as lengthy waiting lists and doctor shortages exacerbated by enforced reduced capacity in light of Covid-related guidelines. Because of Covid-19, capacity in the health services will be restricted by as much as 50 per cent to ensure that care is being delivered in a safe environment.

Consultant in Emergency Medicine Dr Peadar Gilligan said: “Our health system was already under severe pressure prior to Covid-19 with historically inadequate numbers of doctors and insufficient acute hospital bed capacity resulting in very high occupancy levels and significant unmet healthcare needs.

“It is unacceptable that patients might now be put in further jeopardy. We must accept the fact that we cannot meet current patients’ needs with our existing staffing levels and bed capacity.

“We now need to increase capacity by 5,000 acute care beds in order to prepare for a second surge which is looking more likely with every passing week. If we delay further in addressing the resourcing of our health service it is patients and those caring for them who will suffer.”

GP Dr Denis McCauley will advise the committee that general practice has little spare capacity and requires urgent supports in terms of diagnostic services for patients and the reopening of hospital services.

The IMO will also tell the committee of the waiting list crisis that has been building up during Covid-19. It will inform the committee that due to the cancellation of all non-urgent care across the system:

  • 580,000 people are still waiting for an outpatient appointment and a further 230,000 people are on a waiting list for an inpatient or day-case procedure.
  • CervicalCheck screening programme has only just started but other screening programmes have been delayed further;
  • GP access to diagnostics and referral pathways for all patients  have effectively been closed down – leading to mounting pressure on our emergency departments.

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