Donegal Deputy Charlie McConalogue has said he is ‘appalled’ at the Health Minister’s response to chronic doctor shortages at Letterkenny General Hospital.
In response to questions from Deputy McConalogue in the Dáil today, Minister James Reilly confirmed that there are 26.5 vacant posts for Non Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs) at Letterkenny Hospital. But he said Donegal will just have to ‘live with it’ because there is a shortage of NCHDs and it’s difficult to attract doctors to ‘more rural locations’ like Letterkenny.
“This is a disgraceful response from the Minister. To just shrug and tell Donegal to put up with an unacceptable shortage of frontline health staff is simply outrageous,” said Deputy McConalogue.
“This is the elected representative charged with running our health services. He has responsibilities to patients in Donegal, just as he does to the patients in his own constituency in Dublin. He can’t just shrug off all responsibility for what’s happening in Letterkenny.
“Right now, there are 26.5 vacant NCHD posts at Letterkenny Hospital. The hospital is entitled to 121 full-time equivalent NCHDs. So at the moment, more than a fifth of Letterkenny’s doctor positions remain unfilled. A total of 14 locum agency staff are currently being employed to pick up some of the slack, but it’s nowhere near enough. This is just an expensive quick-fix that’s simply not sustainable.
“The Minister’s approach makes no sense. It costs the HSE far more to hire agency staff than to recruit full time doctors. The chronic shortage of doctors in Letterkenny is having an impact on patient care. It led to an overcrowding crisis at the hospital last month, and this will continue to happen while gaping holes remain in our frontline staffing levels.
“It is a real credit to the staff that they have been able to maintain the level of service and patient care at the hospital, particularly in the aftermath of the flooding crisis over the summer. The hospital has had to deal with the same level of patient demand in a highly restricted environment. Minister Reilly needs to wake up to what is going on here, and find a solution to this very serious problem. Whether the solution is a system of rotation, or recruiting internationally until there are more doctors available at home, the bottom line is that we need to see solutions quickly, before lives are put at risk.”