The situation in our health service continues to disimprove with up to one million people on outpatient and inpatient waiting lists and severe overcrowding in our accident and emergency departments on a consistent basis. We learned today that more than 6,000 people who are waiting for elderly care services could be waiting for up to two years. These are just a number of the issues, all of which have been impacted by the chronic crisis in recruiting and retaining qualified consultants. There are 3,176 approved consultant posts in our health service but as only 2,713 have been filled, there are about 463 unfilled qualified consultant posts. Our accident and emergency departments are left without specialist qualified consultants on too regular a basis and there is a chronic shortage across the board in psychiatry across the country. There are other examples. In effect, the shortage of qualified consultants is impacting on the quality and timeliness of care for many patients throughout the country.
There is general agreement that the cuts to new entrant consultant salaries, particularly those introduced in October 2012, constitute the key factor in this chronic inability to attract and recruit consultants to the Irish health service. A cut of up to 30% was introduced in October 2012. This pay differential is a major inhibitor in terms of recruiting qualified consultants. We have an unprecedented number of unfilled permanent posts as a result of that, which is clearly undermining the quality and provision of essential care to patients across the acute hospital service.
The Public Service Pay Commission has confirmed the difficulty in recruiting consultants.
Everybody seems to have identified the pay differential between consultants recruited post 2012 and their colleagues recruited before that. The differential which can be up to 57% is the major factor. When we add the fact that we have 40% fewer consultants than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, average we see the impact on the hospital services. For example, in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, there are 6,500 new patients waiting to see a consultant urologist. St. James's Hospital has advertised twice and has failed to recruit a consultant. In Cork, approximately 6,000 patients are awaiting outpatient reviews for eye surgery. In a recent survey by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, of 300 recently appointed consultants, post-2012, 70% are seriously considering resigning from their public hospital posts unless the discrimination against them ends. Does the Taoiseach accept that we have a very serious issue in recruiting qualified consultants to the health service? Does he accept that the post-2012 pay differential is a key factor and does he accept this is having an impact on patient care adding to waiting lists and undermining overall quality and what does he propose to do about it?