There was strong criticism regarding the implementation of Sláintecare expressed on the opening night of the IMO AGM on 13 April.
During a session on workforce planning, Prof Anthony O’Connor, Consultant Gastroenterologist in Tallaght University Hospital, Dublin, said the 10-year plan for reforming the health service had been “gutted”.
Listing previous Government workforce plans over the decades that he said had failed to be implemented, Prof O’Connor turned his attention to Sláintecare.
“Sláintecare… has by any objective measure been absolutely gutted,” he told attendees.
Prof O’Connor is a former member of the Sláintecare implementation advisory council (SIAC). He resigned from the SIAC in 2021, citing concerns over the direction of the health reform strategy. The council was later replaced by the Sláintecare programme board, which is co-chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Health and the HSE CEO.
“You have a situation now where recruitment and training, and the allocation of trainees, is all been done through HSE central,” said Prof O’Connor, pointing to the lack of regional decision-making.
“So, if you are making workforce planning calculations based on Sláintecare, I think you would be feeling the sand shifting under you at the moment. What we are seeing at a public policy level is a massive move towards outsourcing. We are trying to outsource our way out of all these problems, even though we have been trying to do it now for 15 or 16 years… and waiting lists are just getting worse.”
Referencing the September 2021 resignations of Ms Laura Magahy, the former Executive Director of the Sláintecare Programme Office, and Prof Tom Keane, former Chair of the SIAC, Prof O’Connor said that workforce challenges would remain “unless we can actually decide we now have a plan and vision for how we are going to deliver healthcare in this country and actually back competent people to deliver it, which we 100 per cent failed to do with Tom Keane and Laura Mahagy with Sláintecare”.
At the time of their resignations Ms Magahy and Prof Keane both cited concerns over implementation of Sláintecare.
“Unless we actually pick a plan and stick with [it], any efforts that people are going to make around workforce planning are going to be extremely difficult,” continued Prof O’Connor.
“That’s how I feel about that, without being too gloomy. There is great work being done, we are graduating great trainees, but unless we are going to decide how we are going to do our healthcare and stick with it, how can we make a proper workforce plan?”
During the same workforce planning session Dr Madeleine Ní Dhálaigh, a GP in Co Roscommon, raised concerns regarding the current plan to extend free GP care entitlements.
“We already have a lot of difficulty providing the care for the patients that we already have, but we are managing at the moment,” she said.
Dr Ní Dhálaigh predicted that patient access to general practice will become more difficult with the new additions to eligibility.