THE health service needs 2,800 additional doctors and 9,000 additional hospital beds to match OECD averages, says University College Cork health economist, Dr Brian Turner.
Dr Turner said that the Irish health system has not fully recovered from cutbacks made in the 1980s and 1990s. He was speaking at the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) annual general meeting, in Galway.
Despite significant population growth over the past three decades, the number of hospital beds is still a third less than it was in 1980.
Dr Turner also said that the country would face significant challenges in respect of health expenditure in the years ahead, primarily due to the ageing population.
Quoting from a report, he said that public spending on health and long-term care in the EU could rise from 6.7% of GDP in 2007 to 13% in 2060, and warned that plans must be put in place for the decades ahead.
Meanwhile, the conference also heard that out-of-hours doctors’ co-ops will collapse, if the proposal to roll out free GP care to all in the next five years is followed through.
Dr Ken Egan, chair of the Irish Association of GP Co-operatives (IAGPC), said co-ops were already “getting flooded by the under-sixes”, since the extension of free GP care to this age cohort, in 2015.
He said private patients went to the doctor about three times a year, but visits would double if there was free care for all.
“If I opened up a grocery store and started giving out food for free, there would be queues in minutes. The same will happen if everyone gets free GP care,” Dr Egan said.
He said it was already difficult to staff the “red-eye” shift (midnight to 8am).
Moreover, the number of patients attending out-of-hours, particularly on the east coast, “where people come home from work and the creche says ‘Your kid isn’t well’,” was leading to “choc-a-bloc” waiting rooms.
Doctors were working excessive hours and patient safety was being compromised, he said. The proposal to extend free GP care is reported to be among the recommendations of a cross-party Oireachtas Committee examining the future of healthcare.
Dr John Duddy, outgoing president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said the proposal was “unrealistic and likely unachievable, based on current staffing and funding in the primary care setting”.