A shortage in consultant pathologists is resulting in “onerous on-call rotas”, with a current demand for an additional 173.6 whole-time equivalent (WTE) posts, according to a new HSE National Doctors Training and Planning (NDTP) report.
The report, Medical Workforce Planning for the Specialties of Pathology: An Expert Stakeholder Informed Review, was published last month.
It was a collaboration between the National Clinical Programme for Pathology, the Faculty of Pathology and the NDTP.
In Ireland, pathology has six specialties and each has a dedicated training programme: Chemical pathology; clinical microbiology; haematology; histopathology; immunology; and neuropathology.
According to the report, pathology “underpins every aspect of medicine” from diagnostic testing and monitoring of chronic diseases to blood transfusion services.
“Increased demand for consultant pathologists is being driven by demographic pressures, increasing chronic diseases, and the increasing complexity of many of the tests and treatments being carried out by pathologists.”
Current shortages “are resulting in a large number of consultants working onerous on-call rotas, with some sites not having optimum consultant cover, and long outpatient waiting lists in some specialties”, according to the report.
The report noted that in March 2021 there were 292 WTE consultant pathologists working in Ireland in the public and private sectors.
It outlined a current unmet demand for an additional 173.6 WTE consultants, with “a large proportion” required in microbiology and haematology.
“Demand for consultants is projected to increase at a rate of 2.7 per cent per year to 2035, requiring an additional 191 WTEs.”
The report recommended increasing the intake for higher specialist training (HST) from 23 in 2022 to 70 in 2028.
“With the exception of haematology, there are very limited non-training posts that can be converted into training posts to accommodate the expansion in pathology trainees,” the report stated.
“The proposed increases in HST intake are projected to increase the number of consultants to 451 by 2035. This does not fully meet the projected demand by 2035, additional time will be required to fully bridge the gap between supply and demand.”
The projections made in the report “will need to be revisited in five years”, according to the authors.
The report is the most recent specialty-specific workforce plan published by the NDTP. “NDTP expects to have specialty workforce plans for surgical specialties by the end of 2023/2024 and anaesthesiology by the end of 2023,” a HSE spokesperson told the Medical Independent.
The NDTP expects to have specialty workforce plans for the majority of specialties by the end of 2024 and the beginning of 2025, the spokesperson added.