THE South Infirmary Hospital has issued an alert to GPs, saying it can no longer accept non-urgent patients for ear, nose and throat surgery.
An email to GPs has warned that hospital services are overstretched and patients will no longer be accepted onto growing waiting lists for routine procedures.
Consultants have decided they cannot accept further patient referrals to the hospital's public outpatient clinic for “cosmetic” conditions.
As of November 15 this year, there were 4,501 patients awaiting an out-patient appointment for these services at the South Infirmary.
Cork GP Dr Nick Flynn, said: "This is the new reality of healthcare. Up until now, healthcare for Irish citizens has allowed them to access the services they want.
“This is now the new reality where non-essential services may not be accessible."
Around 700 patients on the South Infirmary waiting lists have been waiting for more than two years, with many waiting for surgery to improve the appearance of their nose, usually following a break.
An email to Cork GPs from hospital chief executive Helen Donovan and otolaryngology consultant Peter O’Sullivan, said:
“In light of the huge demands on the service, the Executive Management Board and Otolaryngology Consultants of South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital have decided that no further referrals to the public out-patient clinics will be accepted for conditions which are primarily cosmetic in nature.
“This includes septorhinoplasty for cosmetic reasons.”
They reassured GPs that the service will continue to see patients who have functional difficulty with their nose, such as difficulty breathing.
Dr Flynn said the email from the South Infirmary was a sign of the times in healthcare.
“Any service that is not medically needed is going to have to be withdrawn due to a lack of capacity in the system and a growing demand.
“To ensure the health sector can continue to deliver essential services like cancer treatment, emergency operations and more, they will have to be prioritised in lieu of non-essential or cosmetic services, and this is an example of that.
“In an ideal world, it wouldn’t happen.
“But the health budget is finite and is under a lot of pressure."
Dr Flynn explained that patients who present with symptoms that concern GPs will still be referred for further examination or treatment at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital.
He said that in non-urgent cases, where people are seeking treatment for broken noses or other “cosmetic issues”, they will not be referred and could have to avail of private treatment instead.