A call has been made for the Minister for Health to engage in talks with hospital consultant representatives in a bid to find a speedy solution to the "unacceptable" waiting list for outpatient gynaecological appointments in Galway.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly was speaking in the wake of the release of the latest figures from the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association (IHCA ) which indicated that there are almost 2,000 women currently waiting for these appointments at University Hospital Galway.
The fact that there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of women waiting to see a gynaecologist during the past five years is particularly worrying, she said.
The consultant recruitment and retention crisis is a major factor in the rise in gynaecological waiting lists, according to the local deputy.
"I was alarmed but not surprised by the recently published figures from the IHCA which show that 28,471 women are waiting to see a gynaecologist nationally," she stated. "Of that number, 1,898 women are awaiting an appointment in Galway's University Hospital. In the context of the CervicalCheck crisis and the State's disregard for women's health, this is simply unacceptable.
“The increase in the number of women now waiting for appointments is a direct result of the consultant recruitment and retention crisis which has resulted in just 142 experts in this area where, according to the Irish Medical Organisation, there should be 239.”
This is an ongoing problem, said Deputy Connolly. “Ireland is consistently highlighted as having the worst waiting lists in Europe. Newly released figures by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD ) show Ireland as having the lowest number of medical specialists on a population basis in the EU with half or less the EU average in many specialities.”
She outlined that the European average is 2.45 per 1,000 population but Ireland falls well below that with just 1.44 per 1,000. Figures from the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO ) reveal that there are 595 vacant consultant posts in 10 specialities.
“They repeatedly insist that this shortfall in numbers is a direct result of the Government’s decision in 2012 to cut the pay of new consultants by 30 per cent above the pay cuts being imposed on any other public servants at that time.
“The result of this is that young doctors are deciding to emigrate and to take their skills elsewhere which has then led to a serious shortfall in the number of consultants working in the country. Over half a million people (564,829 ) are waiting to see a consultant in Ireland, said Connolly, which represents an 84 per cent increase since the end of 2013.”
Since the start of this year alone, an average of almost 7,000 additional patients each month have joined hospital waiting lists, she pointed out.
“The crisis has affected a range of specialities, with the worst waiting list in the area of orthopaedics where there are currently 68,689 patients awaiting an appointment.
“According to the IMO, the recommended number of consultants for this speciality is 202 and yet there are currently only 99 consultants working in this area.
“I am calling on the government and the Minister for Health in particular to engage in talks with consultant representative bodies as a matter of priority to rectify the problem and to fill the positions.”
Sinn Féin local area representative for Galway City, Mairéad Farrell, has lent her support to the views of Sinn Féin education spokesperson Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who accused Fine Gael and the HSE of cutting off employment opportunities for newly-graduated nurses through the recruitment ban.
He said that student nurses in UHG were told that only a “tiny proportion” of the graduating class would be employed by the HSE on graduation in a few weeks’ time. This is driving young nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals to emigrate in search of employment in the health sector, according to Sinn Féin.
Ms Farrell said like the majority of hospitals across the State, UHG is in need of nurses and it makes no sense to turn away highly-skilled, well-trained, graduates.
“The recruitment ban must be overturned for full time staff, it makes no sense to implement a ban in the middle of a recruitment and retention crisis. There are many areas where savings can be made, and the waste of financial resources can be tackled but the employment of full-time medical staff is not one of those areas.”
Meanwhile Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon/Galway Eugene Murphy expressed grave disappointment that student nurses attached to UHG and about to finish “four hard years of study” will be without work when they graduate shortly. He attributed this to the HSE recruitment pause which is “most definitely current government policy”.
Describing the situation as “disgraceful”, Deputy Murphy called on the Department of Health and the Minister for Health to honour commitments which stated the Government, by way of the HSE, was committed to offering permanent posts to all 2019 graduates.
“Minister Harris told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health on 22nd May of this year that the Government was committed to offering every nurse graduate a full time job in the health service. There are 64 nurses in their final year at UHG and all were placed on a panel in July of this year and were allegedly told vacancies for the next 12 months would be filled from this panel.
“However, it now appears very few vacancies exist due to budgetary constraints. The HSE had stated that it had hoped to retain a significant number of the student nurses and had sought national approval to do so.”
He warned that many of the nurses will now face unemployment and possibly emigration if the matter is not addressed. “I am now calling on the Government to abide by its promise to offer every 2019 nurse graduate a full-time job in the health service.”