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New Programme for Government has ‘startling omissions’ – IMO

By Mindo - 15th Jun 2020

Incoming IMO President Dr Padraig McGarry

The IMO has said that the healthcare measures set to be announced in the new Programme for Government, based on extensive reporting so far, have failed to address the needs of a system which is at breaking point following the challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis.

Dr Padraig McGarry, President of the IMO, said: “For a Programme that was negotiated when the fragility of our healthcare system was all too obvious, it falls short in addressing the crisis in healthcare in terms of capacity and medical manpower. Incredibly there is no mention in the Programme of the critical need to introduce a consultant contract for our public health specialists, the very people we have relied upon to take the lead during this pandemic. It would represent the most appalling missed opportunity, if we failed to learn the lessons regarding healthcare from the Covid-19 crisis.”

Dr McGarry criticised the “shocking lack of detail” in the following areas:

  • Capacity issues – no specific commitments in terms of retaining current beds, modular builds or elective-only public investment
  • Doctor numbers – no specific detail of how to address the pay disparity issue which is the biggest obstacle to recruiting consultants to our public hospitals
  • Public health – no plans to recognise public health as a consultant specialty, which is pivotal in terms of building up much needed capacity within Public Health
  • General Practice – no recognition of new investment other than that already agreed in 2019 and no funding for a new GP Contract which has yet to be agreed despite being in previous programmes for Government.
  • Mental health – little more than a recitation of policies and aspirations that were announced but never implemented or fulfilled. We need to be realistic about the staffing crisis in mental health if we are to be serious about providing a full spectrum mental health service, which is needed now more than ever as we emerge from the Covid-induced isolation.

“We are facing a potential second surge of the virus while unprecedented capacity and recruitment and retention issues blight our health system. Allied to the tremendous work of doctors and others in the health service, we have been extremely fortunate to avoid a complete breakdown in our health services so far since the emergence of Covid-19, and this programme is relying on being similarly lucky in future. It is very disappointing that the incoming Government does not appear to fully grasp the need to support  patients, doctors and everyone who works in our healthcare system.”

He said: “The reality is that we need to immediately begin a significant capacity building programme to safeguard patients and enable doctors to do their jobs safely and effectively. Social distancing guidelines and infection control will reduce our capacity by more than 50 per cent so it is unconscionable that these problems are not being addressed through investment in our public health system.  We cannot continue to rely on the private system for capacity we know we need.

“Doctors on the frontline have responded brilliantly to the overwhelming challenge of the Covid-19 crisis in Ireland, and now politicians must learn lessons from the crisis and empower doctors to do their job properly in a health system that truly values their work. This means a commitment to significantly ramp up investment to address legacy issues that are having a hugely negative effect, such as the ongoing pay disparity among consultants based purely on when they were appointed. A health system without doctors is nothing, so the recruitment and retention of specialist medical staff is paramount.”

Dr McGarry said that the lack of detail with regard to public health specialists was particularly disappointing, given their central role in dealing with the pandemic.

“Having done so much to help the country respond to Covid-19, it is regrettable that our public health experts have not received the recognition they deserve as a consultant specialty which would help enormously to build up capacity.”

He said that the IMO welcomed plans to introduce free contraception and said that this must signal the start of a comprehensive women’s health programme in general practice.

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