The Taoiseach has suggested that consultants and nurses avoid taking holidays over the Christmas period to ensure the health service is “working at full whack.”
However, Dr Paul Kelly, consultant radiation oncologist in Cork University Hospital (CUH), said:
“It strikes me as a very ignorant thing to say.
“When the morale is already so low across the sector, for the leader of the country to come out and kick frontline workers like that, shows the Irish healthcare system is in trouble.
“We’re seeing every day vacant posts that can’t be filled and it’s clear that this is the issue, not holidays,” he added.
“What’s next, blaming the people themselves for ending up on trolleys and telling them they shouldn’t be there?
“It honestly looks like it’s heading in that direction.”
The comments by Dr Kelly comments echo the fury from nurses and doctors across the health service.
Staffing vacancies and underfunding are the real issues facing Ireland’s health service, not Christmas holidays, according to nursing and doctors' unions.
There are 2,600 fewer nurses working in the Irish public health service today than in 2007, with a fall of 227 staff nurses between December 2017 and September 2018 alone.
Meanwhile, according to the HSE, for every four nursing vacancies, there is only one application.
A spokesperson for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said that restricted leave is already in place across Irish hospitals during the Christmas period, usually allowing foreign nurses to return home for Christmas while restricting the number of staff allowed leave.
“Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments about Consultants and other health service staff fundamentally miss the point,” said Anthony Owens, IMO Director of Industrial Relations for Consultants and NCHDs.
“The overcrowding issue is not confined to January but is a manifestation of a year-round capacity crisis.
"The key factors driving this crisis are inextricably linked to resources, not to annual leave,” he added.
Cork Minister Michael Creed was forced to defend the Taoiseach’s comments during yesterday's Dáil questions after Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane described it as a “vindictive attempt to shift blame for hospital overcrowding away from him, and the performance of this Government.”
Mr Creed denied that the Taoiseach had laid blame with the staff, but rather the poor management of the Health Service Executive (HSE).
“I think, on the contrary, the Taoiseach’s comments yesterday are clear evidence the Government’s priority is to make sure we deal with patients in an effective way," he said.