TEN top cancer doctors have resigned from Cork University Hospital (CUH) in the last three years, leaving gaps in services for patients in the region.
The consultants were involved in early diagnosis and treatment of cancer and their positions were either left vacant or filled on a temporary basis.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has revealed details of the recruitment and retention crisis impacting on the delivery of cancer services at CUH.
Of 13 consultants who resigned from CUH in recent years, 10 were involved in the delivery of cancer services.
CUH is a National Cancer Centre, part of the HSE National Cancer Control Programme, and provides cancer services to people from Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Waterford.
The hospital unveiled a new €40 million state-of-the-art Radiation Oncology Centre on Friday.
However, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said gaps continue to emerge in the services because of the inability to retain and recruit qualified consultants.
Four of the seven permanent radiation oncology posts at CUH are either vacant or filled on a temporary basis while one of the five medical oncology posts is also vacant.
These and other vacancies, often for lengthy periods, are undermining the delivery of cancer care in CUH, according to IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon.
“The Radiology Department has only about 80% of its requirement of 18 posts,” he said.
“There are vacancies in neuroradiology and breast radiology and there is a need to approve a further two permanent posts taking account of the workload.
“As a result of these significant deficits, cancer services at the hospital are currently restricted,” added Dr O’Hanlon.
“The provision of full 24/7 inpatient and outpatient radiology services has been adversely affected.
“There are simply not enough radiologists to maintain the service, with restrictions on outpatient CT and ultrasound imagery.”
The IHCA president added that two pathology posts at CUH are unfilled, including one in Haematology, and one BreastCheck Histopathologist. Furthermore, two new pathology posts need to be approved in view of workload pressures.
“Nationally, there are currently around 560,000 people waiting for an outpatient appointment and 25,000 outpatients alone at CUH,” he said.
“The fact that 1 in 5 permanent hospital consultant posts in our acute hospitals are either unfilled or filled on a temporary basis is a significant factor.
“The shortage of consultants in cancer services at CUH shines a light on the impact of these shortages, in just one area of medicine, but they are replicated right across our acute hospitals and in almost every surgical and medical speciality, including urology, emergency medicine, obstetrics/gynaecology, cardiology and psychiatry,” added Dr O’Hanlon.
“The government’s Cancer Control Programme 2017-2026 acknowledges the importance of ‘increasing access to, and the capacity of, diagnostic services, as well as creating rapid referral pathways, are also recognised as crucial to early diagnosis’. Unfilled consultant posts at CUH will prevent this stated objective from being realised.”