148,000 people waiting for hospital care in Cork and South/South-West hospitals as lists continue to soar

1 in 7 of the local population on outpatient waiting lists in Cork hospitals alone with wait time targets set for end of 2022 unlikely to be met, say Consultants

  • 148,000 people waiting for hospital treatment and care in the South/South-West Hospital Group. This is an increase of 45% or 45,800 additional people in seven years;
  • Consultant recruitment crisis in the region evident as 30% of completed competitions for Consultant posts that failed to be filled in 2021 were for posts in the South/South-West Hospital Group;
  • Local politicians raise concerns with Department of Health as well as HSE as agreed replacement Independent Chair for stalled Consultant contract talks not yet appointed.

IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine:

“The severe shortage of hospital Consultants in our public health service in Cork and the southern region is the main contributor to the unacceptable delays in providing care to patients. These growing waiting lists demonstrate the impact of years of Consultant shortages. It shows underinvestment in capacity across public hospitals in the region, which must be addressed in discussions with the IHCA.” 

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today warned that failure to ensure competitiveness in recruiting and retaining consultants. Appointing a replacement Independent Chair for stalled contract talks is hampering recruitment efforts in the South/South-West region. It is restricting patients from accessing essential timely, high-quality medical and surgical care.

There were over 148,000 people waiting for inpatient or day case treatment, outpatient appointments or GI (Gastrointestinal) scopes. This was in the South/South West Hospital Group (SSWHG)*. This was at the end of February — an increase of 45% or 45,800 additional people in seven years.

Almost 133,000 people are waiting to be assessed by a hospital Consultant in the region, with 57% (76,000) of these on outpatient waiting lists in Cork hospital. This is 1 in 7 of the entire population of Cork County and a 38% increase (+21,000) since 2015.**

Patients waiting longer for care

The Government’s Waiting List Action Plan released in February pledged that by the end of 2022 almost all patients (98%) will receive their inpatient/day case procedure within 12 months of being placed on the waiting list, in addition to their first outpatient appointment within 18 months.

However, hospitals in the South of the country have 38,400 people currently waiting in excess of the Waiting List targets set for the end of 2022. The specialties of Ophthalmology, Orthopaedics, ENT, Pain Relief, Dermatology as well as Neurosurgery have some of the largest number of people waiting 18 months or longer for assessment by a Consultant.***

Hospital Inpatient/Day Case patients waiting +12mths Outpatients waiting +18mths Total patients currently over Waiting List targets for end 2022
Cork University Hospital 389 10,526 10,915
Mercy University Hospital 347 2,578 2,925
South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital 315 7,093 7,408
Cork University Maternity Hospital 107 17 124
Mallow General Hospital 30 283 313
Bantry General Hospital 6 215 221
Kilcreene Orthopaedic Hospital 6 0 6
Tipperary University Hospital 2 435 437
University Hospital Kerry 179 1,895 2,074
University Hospital Waterford 1,305 12,699 14,004
TOTALS 2,686 35,741 38,427

 

Already a quarter of all patients are currently waiting 12 months or longer for treatment at the following five hospitals: Mercy University Hospital (24%), Cork University Hospital (26%), Cork University Maternity Hospital (27%), University Hospital Kerry (27%) and University Hospital Waterford (28%).

These growing waiting lists mean the Government’s ambitious targets for the end of the year are therefore, unlikely to be met in the SSWHG or nationally.

Lists worsen as critical talks stall

While patients in the region continue to face long wait times, the IHCA has said that the failure to ensure competitiveness in recruiting and retaining consultants and to reconvene critical contract talks with Consultants risks worsening the recruitment and retention crisis in public hospitals.

Of the 23 completed competitions run by the Public Appointments Service that failed to be filled in 2021, 30% (7) were in the South/South-West Hospital Group. These included competitions to appoint badly needed Consultants in Respiratory Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology.

The Association said that talks commenced last September but did not make adequate progress and have been stalled entirely since December, when the Independent Chair stepped down to take up a new role in the High Court. It was expected that a replacement Chair would have been appointed quickly.

However, responding to serious concerns raised in the Oireachtas by Cork North-Central TD, Deputy Colm Burke, at last week’s Joint Committee on Health, Secretary General of the Department of Health, Robert Watt, said that the Department may now not appoint a new Chair – a move which Consultants believe is a significant blow to the process and to tackling the growing vacancy rates and hospital waiting lists.

Commenting, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:

“The severe shortage of hospital Consultants in our public health service in Cork in addition the southern region is the main contributor to the unacceptable delays in providing care to patients.

“We have a chronic recruitment and retention crisis with 1 in 5 permanent hospital Consultant posts not filled as need – that’s 838 Consultant posts nationally either vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis.

“This has therefore led to a situation where we have almost 900,000 people on hospital waiting lists – over 148,000 of these people in the South/South-West.

“The revelation by Secretary General Robert Watt last week that the Department may not appoint a new Independent Chair for hospital Consultant contract talks is another significant blow to the process and to tackling the growing vacancy rates and hospital waiting lists.

“The appointment of an Independent Chair by the Minister of Health was agreed when the talks commenced in July 2021. Appointing a replacement was then recommended by the outgoing Chair and has been needed since December last – with no progress made despite repeated calls from Consultant representative bodies.

“Reneging on this agreement at this point will only serve to further undermine any remaining fragments of trust between health service management and healthcare professionals, and will not create the necessary environment for the consideration of any new offer to be proposed by Government.

“Without open, genuine discussions and agreement with hospital Consultant representatives on the requirements for an attractive Consultants’ Contract to be offered in future, we will not be able to stem the exodus of highly trained medical and surgical specialists abroad, leaving public hospital patients without access to the care they need and deserve.”

IHCA

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