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IMO Warns Focus on Health Savings Risks Repeating ‘Regressive’ Austerity-Era Mistakes

This week, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned that the Department of Health risks repeating the same ‘regressive’ mistakes of the austerity years if it plans to move away from health service investment in order to prioritise savings. The warning follows the publication of a report this Monday by the Department of Health and the Irish Government Economic Evaluation Service into hospital activity and investment.

The IMO said that inadequate capacity and workforce staffing had a major detrimental effect on the patient journey, leading to unnecessary delays and poorer outcomes. This is exacerbated by our rising population and increased complexities of care, particularly in relation to the growing and ageing population. It added that too few doctors and consistent work pressure have led to rising rates of burnout, stress and emigration to the point where we have a recruitment and retention crisis among doctors.

Speaking today, Professor Matthew Sadlier, Chair of the Consultants’ Committee of the IMO, said “It is surprising and disappointing to see this Department of Health report highlight the need for savings in the health service, especially considering similar government policy during the recession had negative ramifications which are still being experienced to this day. The health service’s main problem is that we have neither the beds nor the doctor numbers to meet ever-growing patient demand.

“While the healthcare budget has increased in recent years, that must be seen in the context of restricted budgets for over a decade and a population that has increased beyond expectations leading to increased demand. The 2024 Budget allocated to the HSE will be challenged in terms of maintaining service levels, never mind expanding services.

“Doctors are spending an increasing number of hours trying to get patients beds and support services in a timely manner and this reduces clinical patient-facing time. The vast majority of consultants are working longer hours and 84% of our NCHD colleagues report consistently working in excess of legal hours.”

He said that a sustained period of investment was needed to improve the service. “We need to see substantial, year-on-year investment to improve infrastructure in acute, community and stepdown facilities – over a sustained period this will yield results and improve patient outcomes.

He said that the report referenced a study conducted by the NHS in the UK on productivity which suggested that capacity problems lead to less productive use of staff time as they expend more effort navigating around the lack of beds and equipment.

“This has particular resonance here as we have not had a meaningful increase in bed numbers since the turn of the millennium.”

(Source: Irish Medical Organisation)

 

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