Consultants Call for Action as 69,000 People Waiting for Care in Mid-West Region
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned that the ongoing shortage of hospital Consultants across a large number of specialties in the UL Hospitals Group is restricting patients from accessing timely, high-quality medical and surgical care and is contributing massively to growing waiting lists in the region. Across Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary, there are now over 69,000 people waiting for public hospital care, GI endoscopies or an outpatient appointment with a Consultant.
In the UL Hospitals Group, around 31% of the approved Hospital Consultant posts were either vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis – that’s 61out of a total of 198 approved Consultant posts in the region (as at May 2021). More than 40% of these vacancies (26 approved Consultant posts) were at University Hospital Limerick.
The scale of vacancies in the region has directly contributed to some of the longest hospital waiting lists in the country. Analysis from the IHCA shows that between the period from September 2015 to September 2021, there have been an additional 30,974 (+113%) people added to outpatient waiting lists across the UL Hospitals Group, with a total of 58,511 now waiting to be assessed by a hospital Consultant.
The inpatient/day case waiting lists have increased by a third over the same period, and now total 6,075 patients. A further 4,557 people are waiting for GI endoscopies at hospitals in the UL Hospital Group – more than a three-fold increase since 2015.
The hospital experiencing the greatest growth in its outpatient waiting list is University Hospital Limerick (UHL), which has seen the number of those awaiting an appointment with a Consultant increase two-and-a-half times since 2015, with an additional 29,984 (+165%) people added.
As the busiest hospitals in the region, UHL has seen the number of people waiting longer than a year for an outpatient appointment increase 10-fold from 2,638 in September 2015 to 26,684 in September 2021. At Ennis Hospital, the number of such ‘long waiters’ has increased almost 4-fold (+815 people) in the past six years.
The number of patients waiting longer than a year for hospital inpatient or day case treatment in the UL Hospitals Group has also jumped dramatically, from just 218 six years ago to 1,981- a 9-fold increase. In fact, the majority of hospitals across the region had zero patients waiting 12 months or longer for inpatient/day case treatment six years ago:
|Hospital||September 2015||September 2021||Change|
|University Hospital Limerick||218||563||+158%|
|Croome Orthopaedic Hospital||0||130||n/a|
|St John’s Hospital, Limerick||0||470||n/a|
|Total||218||1,981||+809% – a 9-fold increase|
Some of the longest waiting lists across the UL Hospitals Group are for routine, planned care particularly in Orthopaedics, ENT, Ophthalmology, Dermatology, Urology, Gynaecology and Cardiology, as well as General Surgery.
To make matters worse, UHL has experienced some of the worst overcrowding seen nationally in recent weeks with a total of 1,080 patients treated on a hospital trolley already this month up to Friday 22nd October.
These waiting lists and Emergency Department overcrowding are likely to worsen in the coming months as more people who have put off seeking care during the pandemic continue to enter the system, as a result of the ongoing impact of the cyber-attack on the HSE and the expected winter surge in presentations due to a more severe flu season this year.
Commenting on the waiting lists, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said, “the severe shortage of Consultants across the UL Hospitals Group is the main contributor to the unacceptable delays in providing care to patients in the Mid-West region. Growing waiting lists demonstrate the impact of years of Consultant shortages and underinvestment in capacity across these public hospitals. We have a chronic recruitment and retention crisis with one in five permanent hospital Consultant posts across the country and around 31% in the UL Hospitals Group either vacant or filled on a temporary basis.”
“The increases in patient waiting lists and the number of permanent Consultant posts that need to be filled have arisen due to flawed Government policies despite the dedication and hard work of Consultants, management and all staff in the UL Hospital Group. Unfortunately the recent rise in the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 also increases the likelihood of further cancellations of surgical activity and outpatient appointments in the Mid-West and nationwide, which in turn will only increase the waiting lists further.”
“Meeting the healthcare needs of the 69,000 people currently waiting to be assessed or treated by a Consultant at hospitals within the group will only be possible by urgently filling these vacancies and expanding the region’s hospital beds, operating theatre and other essential hospital facilities now.
“The success of the ongoing Consultant contract discussions will also be critical to the survival of our public health service for years to come. Those talks must deliver on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ made by the Minister for Health to resolve the pay inequity issue for all Consultants contracted since 2012.
“The shocking increase to over 910,000 people on waiting lists nationally is the strongest indicator yet that the immense backlog of care is dangerously close to overwhelming our public hospitals. This is due not only to the pandemic or cyber-attack on the HSE, but the persistent underinvestment in hospital infrastructure over the past decade, including bed capacity and Consultant staffing which are both 40% below the EU average.”