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Almost 20,000 People on Cork Hospital Waiting Lists for more than a Year

Almost 20,000 people have been waiting over a year for a procedure at a Cork hospital, according to monthly figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

In total, 86,626 people were on waiting lists across five Cork hospitals, with 77,992 awaiting outpatient procedures and 8,634 awaiting inpatient procedures up to the end of March. Out of these, 8,634 had been waiting for between 12-18 months, while 11,314 had been waiting for more than 18 months, meaning 19,948 people had been waiting over a year to be seen.

Cork University Hospital (CUH) had the highest number of people on outpatient waiting lists at 36,815, followed by South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH) at 27,813.

Outpatient

Some 6,086 people were awaiting outpatient procedures at the Mercy, 4,020 at Mallow Hospital, 2,236 at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), and 1,022 at Bantry Hospital.

South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH) had the highest number on inpatient waiting lists, at 4,863, followed by CUH, at 1,687, the Mercy, at 918, CUMH, at 670, Mallow, at 338, and Bantry, at 158.

Some 10,269 of those waiting for Cork hospital procedures were children, with 6,092 waiting for an inpatient or outpatient procedure in CUH and 3,272 in SIVUH.

The figures show a monthly increase of 1,882, with 84,744 people on waiting lists in Cork hospitals at the end of February.

Nationally, there were 671,843 people on waiting lists: 585,030 on outpatient lists and 86,813 on inpatient lists, with figures for Cork hospitals making up 12.9% of the total Irish figure.

Nationally, 119,254 patients were waiting more than a year, 16.7% of whom were in Cork.

There were 1,893 people awaiting a GI endoscopy in Cork, and 23,903 nationally, with 24 waiting over a year in Cork and 480 in total. Since March 2023, the total waiting list has decreased by 1.4%, a HSE spokesperson said, but the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) said that reductions fall short of the Government’s Waiting List Action Plan for 2024.

Increase

The IHCA said the three main waiting lists have increased by 24,300 in the first three months of 2024, compared with an expected, pro-rata target reduction of 9,800 people by the end of March, a shortfall of 34,000.

The action plan for 2024 set a target to reduce waiting lists by 6% by the end of December, compared with the start of the year, a considerable reduction from similar action plans in 2022 and 2023, which set ambitious targets of 18% and 10%, but only cut waiting lists by 4% and 3%, respectively.

The spokesperson said, “The modest decrease last year was only achieved by removing people from the waiting lists without any treatment through an NTPF validation programme.” It saw more than 10,700 people taken off waiting lists in Cork.

Stephen McMahon, co-founder of the Irish Patients’ Association, told The Echo “From a patient advocates’ perspective, the lengthy waiting times at Cork hospitals are more than just numbers: They represent a significant risk to patient safety and well-being.

“The fact that nearly 20,000 individuals have been waiting for over a year for procedures is alarming: Long waiting periods can lead to deterioration in patients’ conditions, potentially resulting in preventable complications,” Mr McMahon said.

“Patient safety must be at the forefront of healthcare delivery. It is essential to ensure that those waiting — especially the 10,269 children — receive timely care to prevent any adverse outcomes.”

Changes

Systemic changes to cut wait times could include better resource allocation, streamlined referral systems, and more staff.

Cork GP and Fianna Fáil councillor for Cork City North West, Dr John Sheehan, told The Echo that population increase and higher life expectancy are contributors to the additional demand for services and longer waiting lists. “People are living longer, which is fantastic, but as people age, they require more procedures.”

This is a trend that is set to rise significantly over the next few years, he said, explaining that “we will have an even bigger cohort of older patients, so we need to put in place structures for this because the issues are only going to continue”.

Dr Sheehan said: “We can see in South Infirmary, in particular, due to this winter’s bed-shortage crisis, many procedures were put on hold, as they took overflow from CUH, which was the right thing to do, to help with trauma but it fed into the wait times.

“It can be very hard for people, particularly if you’re in pain, looking for a new hip or knee, there’s always worry and anxiety, so it’s something that the HSE need to work at and look at alternative pathways for.”

Dr Sheehan said he was hopeful that the proposed elective hospital in Cork, which will provide day case, GI endoscopy, minor operations, outpatient treatment and outpatient diagnostics services, would significantly reduce these waiting lists.

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