Doctors have expressed concern over how the recession is contributing to a worsening of health inequalities.

The annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation in Killarney has heard that the life expectancy for men in poor areas is four years less and for women nearly three years less than those living in the most affluent areas.

IMO President Dr Paul McKeown said the incidence of stroke and coronary heart disease is two times higher in the most deprived areas.

The prevalence of chronic illness is also higher in these areas.

The IMO wants a Minister for Public Health appointed to drive health prevention.

Figures released this week suggest that one-sixth of the population is living in poverty.

Doctors say that people in poverty have higher death rates, higher levels of ill-health and fewer resources to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Outgoing IMO president Dr Ronan Boland told the conference that little had changed in the last year in health.

He said doctors were seeing more patients, with fewer beds and fewer resources.

The retirement of 4,500 health staff in recent months and the moratorium on staff recruitment are also hot topics.

Consultants say they are open to discussions on how changes in work practices can lead to more productivity, but they also want their existing contracts honoured.

When Health Minister Dr James Reilly addresses the conference on Saturday, doctors will look for more details of his plan for free GP care at the point of access, and particularly how it will be funded.

Doctors also want to know how yet more reforms promised in HSE administrative structures will deliver better, faster patient care given that new figures show that 170,000 people are waiting since January last year for an out-patient consultation.