Waiting lists in Ireland are getting longer, not shorter. 


The HSE has recently told us that staffing issues are the big problem in ever-increasing waiting times for relatively straightforward procedures; Cataract surgery, hips, knees, and even weight loss surgery can be carried out through the HSE for free in Spain. 

The reason for increased waiting times is that they simply don’t have the staff numbers in Ireland. 

A decade ago, Spanish staff went to Ireland to work. They were attracted by the way of life, the culture, and the relatively high wage compared to the cost of living; rent, transport etc. That has all changed. Now Irish people are coming to them, rather than the other way around. 

People talk about the concern regarding consultant positions going unfilled. The Irish medical system is hierarchical and naturally, consultants play a key role in making clinical decisions in hospitals. 

Staffing issues in the HSE.

  • 400 Irish Doctors were granted visas in 2021 to work in Australia.
  • There are almost 1,000 consultant posts in Ireland not filled on a permanent basis.
  • Nine highly remunerated consultant posts that were advertised last year received literally ZERO qualified applicants;
  • Five thousand older people have been left without a carer due to the chronic staff shortages.
  • Approximately ⅕ people in Ireland are on an HSE waiting list. 

The HSE will send their patients to Spain to meet the consultants here, rather than try and attract the surgeons and other professionals to move to Ireland. Surgery Now takes care of all the paperwork, right down to flights, hotels and even passport applications. 

The difficulties around recruitment in Ireland extend much more widely, however.

Nursing and other gaps.

The reliance on agency staffing in nursing in Ireland is worrying. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said recently that wards have up to 95% staffed by agency workers.

Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of consultants relative to the population of any country. It is no wonder the HSE is keen to use the five star standard of medical care in Spain to help Irish people in pain. Australia, for example, has double the number of consultants compared to Ireland. 

The HSE does say that 75% of vacant posts have been unfilled for less than a year. That said, of the 3,439 posts regarded by the HSE as filled, 420 are occupied by agency staff, temps, locums or other non-permanent staff. 3 per cent of specialist posts are filled by doctors who are not on the specialist register.

How to fix medical waiting lists.

Due to the global labour shortage in medicine, the HSE is doing two things. 

  1. Encouraging patients to come to Spain to get surgery in weeks rather than in years. Surgery Now is the conduit between the HSE, the private medical sector in Spain and the patients. We simply take care of everything on behalf of all parties concerned. 
  2. Non-EU trained doctors in Ireland are becoming increasingly common. It’s not ideal as these doctors are often confined to short-term contracts. Working on a succession of short-term contracts can mean having to relocate every six months, to find a new house to rent and a new school for children.

The Irish Government has recently changed the system to allow for a two-year work permit. It helps, slightly. Doctors don’t need to change work permits every time they move hospitals. Since March this year, non-EU doctors have quicker access to the right to work without a permit. Spousal work rights also are included.

Despite their best efforts, recruiting and retaining health staff in Ireland still goes a long way towards explaining persistent long waiting lists. Naturally, the lack of consultants means fewer clinical decision-makers. Sure, we cannot guarantee our clients and the HSE patients instant access to consultants, but we can often do it in 24 hours. Compared to Ireland right now, that is lightning speed. 

Care staff in Ireland.

There are also too few care staff. This void means older patients cannot be discharged from hospital even though they are well. This just doesn’t happen to our patients here in Spain. We work with the private hospitals even though our patients are on the public lists back in Ireland. Generally, our patients don’t have private medical insurance, as the HSE refunds the total costs to the patient. 

It is a vicious circle. The staffing gaps put even more pressure on current medical workers forced to fill them. For so many excellent, yet disillusioned staff, emigration or retirement increasingly look like attractive options. Will we see more and more Irish medical professionals moving to Spain? 

The shortages of doctors, nurses and key staff have consequences for Irish patients. The lack of qualified people means fewer patients seen. There are fewer operations carried out and fewer clinical decisions made.

Surgery Now and the HSE are offering a real alternative to our patients. Surgery in weeks, not years used to be our slogan. It is not a sales pitch though, but it is very real, very accurate. 

If you think we can help you to get off the long Irish waiting list, please just get in touch.