Consultants have warned of “worrying delays” in gynaecology care, as the pandemic, increased demand, and staff shortages have created the “perfect storm” for growing waiting lists.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) cautioned of mounting delays for people waiting for planned gynaecology procedures.
It said that some patients are waiting months to be seen with the longest average wait times for outpatient gynaecology appointments at Tallaght Hospital (652 days).
In Cork University Maternity Hospital, 2,588 adults were waiting for gynaecology appointments by the end of March. The average wait time for gynaecology services at the start of this year was 141 days. 800 people have been on CUMH’s gynaecology waiting list for over 6 months.
The IHCA said that many old facilities that are not fit for purpose, and inequitable pay levels, are having a “significant effect” on services and the ability to retain staff in the specialty.
Although €5.3 million was committed to enhancing gynaecology services in Budget 2022, they say that waiting lists continue to grow, as there are difficulties in filling gynaecology consultant posts, particularly in smaller hospitals.
The IHCA say long waits are also a result of competition for resources between gynaecology and obstetric services, which are considered as one specialty and often are delivered by the same people and institutions.
“With the increasing number of obstetric patients, gynaecology takes second place, as demand-led obstetrics services take precedence. That’s when you can see delays happen,” said Professor Sam Coulter-Smith, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Rotunda Hospital.
He said that delays in gynaecology appointments risk leading to delays in cancer investigations or leaving patients suffering with painful conditions.
He added that between existing waiting lists and the “ripple effect” of pandemic delays, it is now taking some patients between 6 and 8 months to be assessed.
A HSE spokesperson told the Echo that there have been “significant developments” in gynaecology services since 2020, but the combination of the cyber-attack and the pandemic on waiting lists “has meant that the full benefit of these investments has yet to be realised”.
They said that 14 hospitals have received investment into gynaecology services since 2020, and a further six will get investment in 2022, which will add an additional 30,000 appointments per annum when at full capacity.
They added that approximately €15m has been provided over the past three years to support the recruitment of additional consultants, midwives, physiotherapists and other staff.