Hospital waiting lists are out of control, consultants have claimed.
More than 589,000 patients are in queues for some form of treatment in public hospitals, the country’s top doctors have warned, with some people waiting up to nine years to be seen.
In a submission to Government ahead of the budget, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), said the number of surgical appointments has dropped by more than 100,000 in four years.
President of the association Dr Tom Ryan claimed that acute hospitals are being privatised by stealth.
He said: “Public hospitals urgently need additional acute beds, intensive care beds, theatre operating time, consultants and other frontline staff.
“This is essential to reduce the unacceptable waiting lists, the overcrowding of emergency departments and the increasing number of patients being treated on trolleys.
“Currently our health care system appears to be more focused on balancing budgets and rationing care than treating patients.”
The consultants claimed that acute hospitals are attempting to treat patients with equipment that is increasingly obsolete.
Dr Ryan said: “The current levels of funding do not even meet the cost of maintaining and replacing existing equipment never mind providing for much needed additional capacity.
And the organisation claimed that there will be no money in budgets to replace obsolete equipment or develop additional capacity to provide care when funding for the new Children’s Hospital and the relocation of maternity centres is spent.
He added: “Throughout the past decade the State has severely rationed healthcare, and with an increasing number of patients becoming reliant on private hospitals, in effect acute hospital services are being privatised by stealth.
“Notably the private hospitals understand the increase in existing and future demand for health care services and have expanded their bed capacity, unlike the public hospitals.”
The consultants claimed that there were cuts of almost €1.9bn to health budgets from 2016 to 2021, compared to 2008 and 15% less being spent on mental health services than 10 years ago.
They also hit out at the low numbers of senior doctors being recruited and retained in the Irish healthcare system.
“It is unacceptable that over 400 approved hospital consultant posts are either vacant or filled on a temporary/agency basis,” Dr Ryan said.
The consultants described it as a false economy with medical agency costs topping €115m a year while it also claimed 70 non-specialist doctors have been appointed to consultant posts since 2008.