HOSPITALS and GPs are facing a traumatic winter according to University College Cork’s (UCC) Dr Ina Kelly.
She has also warned that the HSE’s Winter Plan is “inadequate” to meet current challenges within the health service.
The consultant in public health medicine and President of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said the plan has been launched at a time when there are only 21 ICU beds available in the country, with every doctor and healthcare worker “working beyond capacity right now”.
She said that it is “untenable that they are being asked to face into a winter with insufficient support”.
On Monday, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly published the HSE’s Winter Plan for 2021/22.
The plan aims to support people to remain in their own homes by providing GP Liaison Nurses to manage direct referrals from GP’s to ED, Geriatric Community Support, enhance and expand Frailty Intervention Therapy Team models, Community Response Teams (nursing and therapies), Community respiratory admission avoidance teams, expansion of the National Ambulance Service Pathfinder initiative, and COPD outreach teams.
Dr Kelly said, however, that Covid has exposed the long-term cost of failing to invest in our health services and that the “only response now seems to be to try to force more work out of our exhausted doctors”.
“We have 700 vacant consultant posts meaning huge extra pressure on those consultants we do have. We have NCHDs working excessive and illegal hours putting them under enormous strain, and we have GP services facing unprecedented demand from patients. The capacity is simply not there to meet demand and it is not all Covid related,” she said.
She said that the root causes of the Irish health crisis remained bed numbers and manpower and that the Winter Plan “is like using a sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound”.
“Our health services remain crippled by a lack of bed capacity on the one hand and a lack of doctors and other healthcare professionals on the other and, until we fix these problems we will forever be trying to prevent a crisis becoming a catastrophe,” she said.
She also warned that the waiting lists would exceed one million patients within the coming months.
Minister Donnelly said that he fully supports the HSE’s commitment to improving Patient Experience Times, particularly during Covid-19. He also highlighted the importance of those who need medical attention to seek it as soon as they feel unwell but urged people to consider alternatives to the Emergency Department.