Health service in crisis: Almost one million hospital appointments cancelled by pandemic

The lethal toll the pandemic is having on patients with non-Covid illnesses is revealed in new figures showing almost a million hospital appointments have been cancelled.

The damage inflicted as the health service wrestles with Covid-19 shows that 200,000 fewer outpatient and inpatient appointments are expected this year.

This comes on top of a similar situation last year when more than 723,000 hospital patient sessions did not go ahead.

The new analysis, which is published today by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), reveals the devastating impact of the pandemic on patients with other illnesses, many of them urgent and life-threatening.

It also emerged yesterday that from July there will be around 300 fewer intern doctors in hospitals across the country.

The number is reverting back to 734 after getting a boost last year due to the pandemic.

But it comes as waiting lists for public patients have risen to 860,000 and are on course to reach a record one million.

Prof Alan Irvine, president of the IHCA, said: “Yet again, these waiting time figures drive home the devastating impact not just of Covid-19 on the provision of care to patients, but of the persistent underinvestment in hospital infrastructure, bed capacity and other facilities in the past decade and the failure to address the consultant recruitment and retention crisis.

The IHCA’s Alan Irvine during a Covid-19 committee meeting at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

“Regrettably, in the short-term due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, these waiting lists will deteriorate further.“The impact of the current surge and the unavoidable delays in providing hospital care will be particularly felt in the second half of the year, but also for years to come unless plans are put in place now to clear the backlogs.

“Planning is now required to ensure that services are resourced appropriately to cater for the increased demand.

“But with over 700 permanent consultant posts vacant our acute hospitals are very poorly positioned to provide timely care to patients.”

Hospitals have had to put much non-Covid care on hold during recent months as they were flooded with patients battling the virus.

However, there was some light yesterday as Prof Philip Nolan told a Covid-19 briefing that the number of admissions to hospital is falling and is below an average of 600 over the last week. There were no new patient with the virus admitted to intensive care in the previous 24 hours.

Prof Irvine said additional consultants must be recruited to tackle waiting lists and address the backlog of treatment due to Covid.

“Government can no longer ignore the fundamental requirement that essential treatment is delivered by consultants and that no amount of investment in hospital services will reduce waiting lists unless we recruit and retain the necessary number of hospital consultants to deliver timely care,” he added.

The HSE’s 2021 service plan has a budget of €20.6bn and pledges to hire more doctors and increase hospital beds. This includes another 66 intensive care beds, bringing the number to 321 at the end of the year.

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “The national number of medical internship posts available for July 2021 has reverted to 734, which is the standard annual intake in line with current workforce planning projections. The significant increase in intern numbers put in place for July 2020 was a direct response to the Covid crisis.”

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