Planned capacity increases, while welcomed, require associated increases in staff recruitment, training provision, and retention
The increase in bed capacity outlined in Budget 2021 must be matched by a commitment to retain the country’s medical graduates, the President of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), Prof P Ronan O’Connell, has said.
Almost €4 billion in extra spending was earmarked for healthcare in Budget 2021, with funds allocated for an additional 1,146 acute beds, an extra 66 critical care beds, and 1,250 community beds, including 600 new rehabilitation beds.
Welcoming this week’s announcement of additional health funding, Prof O’Connell said the extra money was necessary in the face of the combined threats from Covid-19 and expected winter pressures on the health service.
Covid-19, he said, has exposed pre-existing critical shortages in hospital bed capacity, especially in intensive care and high dependency units.
However, Prof O’Connell cautioned that planned capacity increases, while welcomed, were not sufficient without increases in staff recruitment, training provision, and retention.
“For too long Ireland has exported many of its best and brightest graduates in medicine, nursing and professions allied to medicine,” he said.
“Now is the time to ensure that all suitably qualified graduates are retained within the Irish healthcare system.”
Describing the decision earlier this year when the first Covid-19 wave struck to offer internships to all graduates of Irish medical schools as “invaluable”, Prof O’Connell said the RCSI was urging the Health Service Executive (HSE) to continue this arrangement.
“Cancellations of scheduled care deprive patients of timely treatment, but also seriously impact on the ability to train staff. It is crucial that training continues through the Covid-19/winter crisis,” he continued.
“This is particularly problematic in the specialties of surgery, anaesthesiology, gastroenterology and other interventional specialties.
“While welcome, supplementary funding to the National Treatment Purchase Fund to provide access to scheduled care in the private sector must also facilitate access for specialty training.
“The RCSI looks forward to working with the Minister [for Health, Stephen Donnelly], his department, the HSE and hospital groups to ensure best use of the additional funding and a safer, more equitable future in Irish healthcare.”