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Almost 30,000 people across Ireland are on a waiting list to see a gynaecologist for an outpatient appointment, consultants have warned. This is a massive increase of 43 percent since 2014.

The #CareCantWait campaign from the Irish Hospital Consultant Association (IHCA) has been launched today, warning of the hazardous consequences of lengthy wait times on patients.

The campaign is also calling on the Government to address the problem of consultant shortages with speed and empathy.

Currently, one-in-five permanent consultant posts in Ireland's HSE are unfilled or else filled by temporary appointments. As a nation, we have the lowest amount of consultants working in the health service in the EU.

There's no doubt that this shortage is having an influence on the long waiting times and stark lack of access to essential services, according to the IHCA.

Ireland has the third-highest fertility rate in the EU, but the State has less than half of the EU average amount of specialists working in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Dr. Rhona Mahony, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and director of women’s health for the Ireland East Hospital Group has spoken out in a series of videos expressing her concerns.

She described the number of women waiting for gynaecological outpatient appointments as “distressing”, adding that Ireland has the lowest number of consultants in the OECD.

Dr Mahony emphasised that waiting lists have a "huge impact on quality of life", and claimed that many "simple procedures can change lives and radically improve a patient’s quality of life." 

"Not to be able to offer that to patients, in a country like Ireland, is really quite distressing, mainly for patients but also for those charged with giving care," she stressed.

Shockingly, 29,152 people who identify as women are waiting for a gynaecological outpatient appointment with a consultant at a public hospital in Ireland.

The highest numbers of people awaiting care are at Dublin hospitals, with 3,828 women waiting for an appointment at the Rotunda, 3,130 waiting at Tallaght and 2,542 waiting at the Coombe.

In Cork, 1,553 women are waiting to be seen at Cork University Hospital, and 1,184 are waiting at Limerick University Hospital. 1,467 women are waiting at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise and 1,385 are waiting in Mullingar.

Galway University Hospital has 1,882 women waiting for an outpatient appointment while Letterkenny has 1,773. Lastly, Cavan is seeing 1,142 waiting for care.

Waiting list figures from the end of May show over 556,000 patients waiting to see a consultant for an outpatient appointment, while a further 68,000 who have been assessed are waiting for follow-on treatment.

Irish Hospital Consultant Association has expressed it's worry over the lack of care, saying; “Tens of thousands of these patients are waiting long periods, often several years, to obtain an outpatient appointment."

HCA vice president and consultant rheumatologist Laura Durcan said consultants felt the need to to go public about the situation to inform the nation;

“None of this is okay,” said Dr Durcan. “You should be able to access timely care.”

7,392 admitted patients have been forced to wait on trolleys for a hospital bed in June, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). This amount is seven percent higher than last year.

There were 482 patients on trolleys last Tuesday, which marks the highest total for any June day since records started, and is 49 percent higher than the same date of last year.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, claims that this summer is as dire as the winter of five years ago; “Understaffing is driving year-round unsafe conditions,” she said

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Dr. Rhona Mahony has pledged that women whose unborn babies have fatal foetal abnormalities will be offered terminations from January at the National Maternity Hospital.

As the hospital's master, Mahony made the claim after it came to light that some maternity hospitals and GPs won't be ready to begin extended abortion services from January.

A spokesman has said that staff are "working to ensure we have a full, safe and compassionate service in place as quickly as possible".

Dr. Mahony's spokesman continued;

"Notwithstanding the outstanding logistical issues, we expect to provide termination of pregnancy in situations of fatal foetal anomaly from January 1."

Minister for Health Simon Harris rejected implications that the January target for abortion services was aligned with politics, and has commented that this claim was 'offensive'.

He added that the services will not be available everywhere straight away, and that it needed time to embed and evolve with the help of clinicians. 

Yesterday, the Seanad continued with their debate on the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

Dr Sharon Sheehan, master of the Coombe hospital, has commented that her new system of service won't be ready by January.

She said; "To ensure the provision of "safe, high-quality, sensitive and compassionate care for women", it is essential to have the finalised legislation in place, an agreed model of care nationally and national clinical guidelines.

She continued;

"There has been extensive work, and that is continuing to proceed at a pace, but they are not ready and we now have only 20 days before this service is to be introduced.

"In my opinion, the country is not ready, and therefore the Coombe is not in a position to deliver these services from the January 1."

The Rotunda maternity hospitals spokeswoman commented that;

"Rotunda Hospital will be complying with enacted legislation providing the appropriate model of care, resources and funding is in place to enable a safe service provision to women".

The Irish Family Planning Association has also said that an exact date of availability for abortion services cannot yet be offered;

"We are still working on a number of outstanding issues. We're working to resolve them as quickly as possible and we're making good progress. We won't delay in providing abortion care once that's done".

The Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians are set to meet today for the discussion of clinical guidelines which are seen as essential for doctors.

A 24/7 helpline will hopefully be advertised by the HSE once the legislation is passed for guiding women, GPs and hospitals.

Feature image: BusinessPost.ie

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