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Budget needs to tackle 'decade of underfunding' of health service, says doctors' body

A decade of underfunding has pushed people out of the health workforce and substantial investment is needed to bring them back, the Irish Medical Organisation has said.

The doctors' body has called for 5,000 acute hospital beds, support for investment in GP infrastructure, short- and long-term care for the older population and a plan to fully digitise the health service.

The IMO’s pre-budget submission focuses on “poor workforce planning” as a key issue causing delays for patients in hospitals and in community care.

They shared data showing there are currently 113 orthopaedic surgeon posts filled on a permanent basis, compared with a recommended number of 231 to meet the current population demands.

In obstetrics and gynaecology, the IMO data shows 170 posts filled on a permanent basis compared with 275 needed to meet the demands of the current population. Cardiology, dermatology and urology were also highlighted as areas of shortage.

Chief executive of the IMO Susan Clyne said healthcare is currently a difficult environment for staff. “It took a decade of underfunding to send them (healthcare workers) away, it is going to take time to build back up trust and for them to see they are working in a good environment,” she said.

She said changes like the new contracts for consultants are welcome but are not short-term fixes to the retention challenges.

President of the IMO, Dr John Cannon, said: “This year, the Government has the chance to do what successive governments have failed to do for decades: implement radical reform of our health system for the good of patients."

He said this is “the only viable option” to begin tackling waiting lists.

Among their recommendations are the Department of Health and HSE publish a fully-funded plan to increase the number of hospital beds by 5,000 by 2028, starting with 1,600 next year.

This should be supported by increasing the number of rehabilitative care beds, long-term nursing home beds and the financing of home care packages.

Chair of the IMO GP committee, Kilkenny GP Dr Tadgh Crowley, said there are concerns in this sector also about the number of doctors available as the population continues to increase.

“We have an increased, ageing population with very complex needs. We have an obesity crisis mirroring other countries in Europe,” he said.

He highlighted high emigration rates among young doctors and said we need to understand why they are choosing to stay abroad.

The IMO recommended the Budget include targeted tax incentives to support GP investment in infrastructure, saying this formed part of the 2015 Government-commissioned Indecon Report.

They also called for support for young GPs including specific funding measures around premises, equipment and IT.

Overall the IMO asked that any future workplace planning take account of changes in how people work today, so for example the impact of more part-time working means more individual doctors are needed to meet overall targets.

They welcomed recent Government announcements around increased training places but said this does not go far enough. The IMO also called for the number of approved consultant posts to be increased from around 4,200 to 6,000 by 2028.