117 left on waiting list as theatres fail to open

ALMOST a year after the opening of the country’s newest maternity hospital, its gynaecology theatres remain closed, leaving 117 women on a waiting list, some in need of urgent procedures.

Yesterday the head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) said opening the two theatres would have an “immediate impact” on waiting lists and on improving well-documented deficiencies in gynaecology services in the Health Service Executive (HSE) South.

“We’re concerned about gynaecology services. We recognise that there are deficiencies that need to be addressed and we are working with the HSE South to ensure that the theatres open in the near future,” said consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist Professor John Higgins.

The opening of the theatres would be the “single most important immediate step” to improving the service, Prof Higgins said.

At the moment, women are operated on in the adjoining Cork University Hospital (CUH), but gynaecology slots are restricted to five a week, because of the multitude of demands on the general hospital’s theatres. One of the two gynaecology wards in the new maternity hospital was due to open in September. However, the HSE recruitment ban took effect that month and additional nurses needed to staff the theatres were not recruited.

A spokesperson for the HSE said if the opening of the new theatres had been urgent, staffing requirements could have been processed through the derogation process, under which the HSE allowed the hiring of certain staff during its embargo.

GPs in the HSE South — who have described gynaecology services at CUMH as a “disaster waiting to happen” — consider there is an urgent need to open the theatres. Reports yesterday suggested more than 50 women in Cork alone with suspected cancer of the womb were waiting months for crucial investigations.

In 2006, a report on The Future of Maternity and Gynaecology Services in Ireland 2006-2016, by a subgroup of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of which Prof Higgins was chair, identified a number of concerns in relation to gynaecology services nationwide. They included “a general view among gynaecologists that Irish practice is lagging behind other European countries, particularly in the areas of minimal access surgery and outpatient surgical treatment.

A HSE South spokesperson said the new theatres at CUMH will open in the last week of March for minor procedures, with a full service operating from the first week of April. He said all that remained was the recruitment of two clinical nurse managers.

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