The Irish Hospital Consultants Association has said there is a chronic shortage of consultants, beds and other facilities in the health service.

Speaking at the organisation’s annual conference in Galway, its president Dr Donal O’Hanlon said that 500 permanent hospital consultant posts are unfilled.

He said that the lack of capacity in public hospitals and shortage of consultants was damaging patient care.

Dr O’Hanlon said that around 100,000 patients will be treated on trolleys this year due to the bed shortages.

He told the conference that contrary to common perception, public hospitals are poorly funded compared to other countries.

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Jim Daly, Minister of State at the Deparment of Health, told the conference that the Government remains committed to increasing the consultant workforce.

He said that in the year to August, 118 new consultants were appointed.

He also said that a HSE proposal to open 600 new acute hospital beds between 2018-2020 was being assessed by the Department and is part of the current estimates process. 

The IHCA is holding its annual conference in Galway

Mr Daly also said waiting lists had reduced in certain areas but accepted there was still an enormous amount of work to be done.

The Secretary General of the IHCA, Martin Varley, said the time from design to delivery of beds in the public system is eight years.

He said this was a major concern and there was a need to fast-track the planning of extra beds.

Conference hears concerns over new Maternity Hospital project

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, the former president of the High Court and deputy chairperson of the Holles Street Hospital Board, expressed concern that the project to build the new National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent's could collapse.

He said that approval for commencement works had not yet been given by the Department of Health.

He said certain commencement works needed to start before the end of the year, under European legislation relating to new buildings and energy rules.

Mr Kearns also told the conference that there was a perception of an animus towards the hospital in the Department of Health, as a result of a recent Judicial Review taken by the hospital over ministerial plans to hold a HIQA investigation following the death of Malak Thawley.

Last month, the hospital succeeded in its challenge to halt the proposed inquiry.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Simon Harris said he is absolutely committed to the development of the National Maternity Hospital project.

She said the Minister has also been clear on the importance of the detailed protections for the State's investment and governance arrangements for the project, given its scale. 

"Work is ongoing in this regard and the Minister hopes to be in a position to update Government and the hospitals shortly," the spokeswoman added.