TENS of thousands of people are on hospital waiting lists for operations, consultations or outpatient appointments at Cork hospitals as winter approaches.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still a major threat and the possibility of a severe winter flu season, doctors have warned those waiting lists might not be addressed any time soon.
Recent figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund show that more than 65,000 people were on waiting lists for outpatient appointments at hospitals in Cork at the end of August. Almost 30,000 of these were awaiting appointments at Cork University Hospital (CUH); 23,800 were on the outpatient waiting list South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital; and around 6,000 were waiting at the Mercy University Hospital.
At the same time, more than 5,500 were on waiting lists for inpatient and day-case treatment in Cork hospitals. More than 1,100 were awaiting treatment at CUH along with almost 2,100 at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital and around 1,000 at Mercy University Hospital.
While others are awaiting treatment or outpatient appointments at hospitals such as Bantry and Mallow General, the city hospitals boast the highest waiting lists.
Thousands of patients are awaiting outpatient appointments for pain relief, cardiology, neurosurgery, rheumatology, ophthalmology and other specialities.
Meanwhile, hundreds more are awaiting treatment in these areas and others including urology, plastic surgery and general surgery.
Cork GP and former lord mayor of Cork City, John Sheehan said each of these waiting list numbers represents someone who is waiting, often anxiously and in pain for review and possibly a procedure.
“With the Covid pandemic, unfortunately many outpatients and procedures were cancelled,” he said.
“Now the HSE needs to plan with the expectation that Covid-19 will be around for the foreseeable future.
“Given the prolonged waiting lists for pain relief services, ear, nose and throat, and orthopaedic procedures, these need to be prioritised as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Cork University Hospital
CUH saw its outpatient waiting list increase by almost 1,000 people in the space of a month recently.
More than 5,700 patients have been waiting more than 18 months for their CUH outpatient appointment.
There are more than 29,000 people awaiting an outpatient appointment at the hospital, including almost 7,500 on the ophthalmology (eye) waiting list. Almost half of those 7,500 have been waiting more than 18 months for an appointment.
Other areas with high waiting lists for outpatient appointments at CUH include neurosurgery (2,952), urology (1,899), rheumatology (1,639), and cardiology (1,544). Of these four specialties, only cardiology does not boast a waiting list of triple digits for those waiting more than 18 months for an appointment.
Cardiology is also among the highest inpatient waiting lists at CUH, with 146 on waiting lists for heart treatment, seven of whom have been waiting more than 18 months.
These patients are among the more than 1,100 people awaiting inpatient treatment at CUH, according to the latest NTPF figures.
Some 253 patients are awaiting urology treatment at CUH along with 249 waiting for general surgery, 196 in plastic surgery waiting lists and 55 awaiting neurosurgery treatment.
South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital boasts the largest number of people who have been waiting more than 18 months for an outpatient appointment in Cork.
NTPF figures show that more than 8,000 patients have been waiting more than 18 months for their appointment. In total, 23,800 patients are on the outpatient waiting list at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, including almost 7,500 awaiting orthopaedics. Almost 3,000 of these have been waiting more than 18 months.
More than 5,200 are awaiting ear, nose and throat appointments at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, along with around 3,500 on the waiting list for pain relief appointments, 3,300 awaiting dermatology and 2,100 waiting for plastic surgery appointments.
Almost 2,000 of these patients have been waiting more than 18 months for outpatient appointments in both ear, nose and throat and pain relief. In terms of inpatient procedures and appointments, South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital boasts the highest waiting list in Cork despite a recent reduction in waiting lists, with almost 2,100 awaiting treatment.
About 99 patients have been waiting more than 18 months. Almost 500 are on waiting lists for ear, nose and throat; 415 for eye procedures; 410 for pain relief; 276 for orthopaedics; 221 for plastic surgery; and 177 for general surgery.
Mercy University Hospital
At Mercy University Hospital, almost 6,400 patients are on waiting lists for outpatient appointments, including around 1,400 who have been waiting more than 18 months.
The hospital has around 1,000 patients awaiting out patient department. pain relief appointments, 500 of whom have been waiting more than 18 months.
There are also 1,234 people awaiting urology appointments; 993 awaiting respiratory medicine; and 904 awaiting cardiology appointments at Mercy University Hospital. This hospital saw a recent increase in its inpatient waiting list, rising by around 30 patients in the space of a month. It has 1,099 patients awaiting treatment, including 130 who have been waiting 18 months or more.
The largest number of patients awaiting treatment at the hospital are on the waiting list for urology, which stands at 317 patients.
Almost 250 are awaiting general surgery and 240 are waiting for pain relief treatment.
Speaking to The Echo recently on the NTPF figures, Cork consultant in emergency medicine, Chris Luke warned that Covid-19 could be around for years to come and that this will negatively impact waiting lists. He said that the coronavirus is behaving in a similar pattern to that of the Spanish flu, a virus that remained prevalent for a number of years following the first outbreak.
“The truth is I think we will be contending with Covid-19 for at least three years,” he said.
“I don’t see a vaccine being widely available for 18 to 24 months. I would be very surprised if it is available in the next 12 to 18 months.
“That means that all the precautions, from wearing personal protective equipment to hand hygiene and social distancing, will have to continue,” he said.
“That means there will be tension between elective procedures, surgeries and clinic appointments and trying to be ready for the next surge.
“The waiting list initiative will constantly be battling with Covid-19 in terms of priorities.
“I cannot see the waiting lists being tackled as vigorously as they need to be tackled for another year or so simply because we’re battling with Covid,” said Dr Luke.
“Hospital staff are battling away and it certainly won’t be for a lack of desire to get waiting lists down. Covid will just make the situation very difficult.”
CUH, Mercy University Hospital and South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital were contacted for comment.
A spokesperson for CUH said the hospital is “working collaboratively with the South/ South West Hospital Group and the NTPF to address long waiting lists”.
“Patients are prioritised according to individual clinical need and the hospital will endeavour to see patients as promptly as is possible,” she said.