People living in Ireland’s worst skin cancer blackspot risk not being immediately checked for signs of the potentially life-threatening condition, because of chronic HSE recruitment problems.
Senior health service officials admitted the problem is apparent at University Hospital Waterford — formerly Waterford Regional Hospital — due to an ongoing inability to appoint people to two recently emptied consultant dermatologist posts.
Responding to concerns over the matter at the latest Dáil health committee, HSE deputy director general Laverne McGuinness confirmed the hospital has yet to replace Dr Colin Buckley, who retired at the start of the year.
A second consultant dermatologist at the facility is also out on maternity leave, meaning the south-east service currently has no consultant in place.
Ms McGuinness stressed addressing the matter is a priority for service managers and that patients who need to be examined urgently can travel to Cork University Hospital to be treated by consultant dermatologists in that unit.
However, hitting out at the situation, Labour TD Ciara Conway said the issue is putting people needlessly at risk.
She said the decision to send patients in need of a check-up to CUH went against the HSE’s own hospital reconfiguration plans, which are meant to involve consultants from other hospitals travelling to see patients instead of the other way around.
And noting the recruitment delay is occurring in the south east, an area with the worst record for skin cancer in Ireland, the Labour TD said the situation means patients’ health is potentially being put at risk.
“Currently, Waterford does not have a dermatology service. There is not one single consultant dermatologist to serve the needs of the people. This is a disaster.
“The retirement of Dr Buckley had been well flagged, while he had even gone on the record to state that the situation in dermatology was ‘untenable’.
“Basically, anybody with a serious complaint — such as a melanoma, or something that looks like melanoma — is being referred to Cork.
“This situation is going to cost lives, and we have to act now. It’s not the sort of healthcare we’re entitled to and it’s not what we were promised [under reconfiguration plans],” she said.
The Waterford situation follows similar problems in other parts of the country where the HSE is struggling to fill top consultant positions in various specialities.
The difficulties in Waterford first came to public prominence earlier this year when it emerged that, due to administrative staff shortfalls, more than 3,000 letters dating back to January 2013 had yet to be sent out to patients updating them on their condition.
A HSE spokesperson said at the time the issue was not affecting patient care as any serious cases were being dealt immediately and without delays.
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