THE number of people waiting for appointments for gynaecological conditions in Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) for more than 18 months jumped by more than 500% in the last year.
This time last year there were 163 people on the list for more than a year-and-a-half, but that has now risen to 1,013 - a 521.5% increase.
The total number of people on the waiting list stands at 4,667, up 26% from last year.
In response to the figures, John R. Higgins, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and clinical director for maternity services in the South/SouthWest hospital group, said that priority was given on the waiting list to people dealing with cancer or pre-cancerous conditions, and that meant that others with less serious conditions had to wait.
"If patients' symptoms and risk factors suggest they may have cancer, pre-cancer or other serious gynaecological conditions, they are given an urgent appointment in the gynaecology clinic. Other patients must wait, some up to several years, for outpatient assessment," he said.
He said that people could be moved up the list if their conditions became more serious.
"This does not mean that none of these patients could have cancer," Mr Higgins said.
"Among the thousands of patients waiting a long time for gynaecological assessments, some will have precancerous or cancerous conditions by the time they are seen. If a patient's condition deteriorates, their GP may send a further referral letter indicating this and a consultant may decide to change the urgency status of the patient on this basis," he said.
Mr Higgins acknowledged that people on the waiting list for a long time could suffer difficulties, but said that priority had to be given to people with more serious issues.
"A large percentage of patients on the outpatient waiting list suffer poor quality of life as a result of their conditions but this fact alone cannot automatically escalate them into the urgent group due to the sheer volume of patients in question.
"Conditions such as pelvic pain, heavy periods and uterine prolapse significantly affect the quality of life in a large proportion of patients; however, urgent classification cannot be assigned to these patients due to the sheer volume of patients that would need treatment. Urgent classification is reserved for the highest risk patients," he said.