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Government response to junior doctor crisis less than adequate

22 June, 2011 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking in the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the Government’s response to the looming crisis over junior hospital doctors as less than adequate.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said he has no doubt that the junior doctor issue is being used as a convenient excuse to close emergency departments across the state.

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s contribution follows:

We have a looming crisis in our public hospitals because of the total over-reliance of the hospital system on non-consultant hospital doctors.

400 junior doctor posts have to be filled. If they are not filled, or if sufficient numbers of them are not filled, we are facing, as admitted by Health Minister Reilly, the loss of emergency services, especially in our smaller hospitals.

We now have the utterly bizarre and totally unacceptable situation that the hospital system faces melt-down in just over a fortnight from now unless sufficient numbers of junior doctors are recruited before the 11th July turnaround date. We are used to looking with trepidation towards 12th July – now we have another reason to do so.

There is an unseemly scramble on the part of the Government to put in place legislation to facilitate the recruitment from abroad of junior doctors that we should not have to import at all. There are sufficient numbers here if only medical staffing were properly organised.

This is not a new problem. It has been known and widely recognised for years that the hospital system is totally over-reliant on junior doctors. Successive Governments have recognised this but have failed to address the problem and now it is looming again, worse than ever.

No-one is trying to place all the responsibility for this on the shoulders of the current Minister for Health or the Taoiseach.

But their response so far has been far from adequate.

Last week, when this was first raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin leader Deputy Adams, the Taoiseach stated that the Health Minister would be making a statement on last Friday. There was no statement.

The Health Minister then went on Frontline on Monday to say that “we may well end up with some A&E departments that cannot be safely manned. It will not be any of the major ones. It will be small rural hospitals that will be the real difficulty.”

For a start, there are no “small rural hospitals”. Dundalk and Monaghan are large urban areas with densely populated rural hinterlands. Their hospitals have lost A&E services. Nenagh and Ennis are also large towns with wide hinterlands and they have also lost A&E. Navan, St. Colmcille’s in Loughlinstown, Roscommon, Mallow and Bantry all serve large urban and rural populations and are losing or are set to lose A&E services.

I have no doubt that the junior doctor issue is being used as a convenient excuse to close emergency departments in fulfilment of long-standing but ill-conceived plans on the part of the HSE and successive Health Ministers.
On this Government’s 100 days in office, 16th June, in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, there was the unprecedented number of 52 patients on trolleys awaiting an in-patient bed.

In April, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation sought a meeting with Minister James Reilly, to discuss this critical situation. This meeting has not yet taken place. INMO Industrial Relations Officer, Tony Fitzpatrick, has stated that overcrowding in the North East has been a critical and unresolved issue for ten years and has been exacerbated by the downgrading of services under the guise of reconfiguration, when in reality all changes have been driven by economics and not patient need. I can attest to the truth of that statement.

If Minister Reilly’s prediction is allowed to come through then the North East and all regions will face even worse situations in emergency departments from 1st July onwards. What will the winter be like?

Unfortunately, recruiting sufficient additional junior doctors will be required in the short term. But that is not enough, despite suggestions from the Taoiseach to the contrary.

There needs to be root and branch reform of medical training and staffing.

Nurses need to be freed up to fulfil more responsibilities in our hospital A&E departments as they are qualified and willing to do.

Hospital consultants must be required to fulfil their contracts to serve the public hospital system, contracts which are being widely breached. More consultants are required in our public hospital system and the current excessive remuneration for consultants needs to be reduced to facilitate the employment of more consultants.

This Coalition has promised real change. Now it is time to deliver.


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