Health minister defends rollout of menopause clinics despite months-long waits

Health minister defends rollout of menopause clinics despite months-long waits

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at the opening of the new menopause clinic at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, with Jean Coffey, advanced nurse practitioner; Dr Caoimhe Hartley, GP and menopause specialist; and Dr Vicky O'Dwyer, consultant gynaecologist. Picture: Fennell Photography

Health minister Stephen Donnelly has defended the pace of the rollout of menopause clinics, despite women facing months-long waits due to critical understaffing.

Some six menopause clinics are planned, however the Irish Examiner reported previously the National Maternity Hospital has a waiting list of five months already for its clinic run by Dr Deirdre Lundy.

The Department of Health on Monday said the Coombe clinic was already open, however, a hospital spokeswoman again confirmed on Tuesday this not yet the case.

In Munster, the only clinic open is at Nenagh Hospital in Tipperary. Clinics are also planned for Cork and Galway.

The Rotunda clinic recently started seeing patients. Mr Donnelly said at the opening on Tuesday: “This is one of the six specialist menopause clinics, all six will be in place by the end of the year.” 

He insisted: “Not only is there not a slow rollout, I would love to see other healthcare services be able to roll out from a standing start to six national clinics.” 

Referring to Dr Lundy’s concerns around staffing, he said: “We are still staffing up, it is the case there is very significant funding and sanctioned roles in place.” 

He said clinics should ask the department for more recruitment funding if needed. “We are being very up-front,” he said.

Director of gynaecology at the Rotunda Hospital Dr Vicky Dwyer said specialist knowledge will help menopausal women with specific needs, including cancer, at any age.

“We expect the clinic will grow and develop, the waiting list isn’t very long now, but that might change,” she said.

It will run on Tuesdays with up to 14 women seen daily at the start, with consultations lasting up to an hour, she said.

Services at all clinics will be free of cost, and available through GP referrals only.

Financial cost for women

Meanwhile, a leading Cork GP has highlighted the financial cost of menopause for women who do not need specialised services.

Southern Taskforce On Abortion and Reproductive Topics member Dr Trish Horgan said most women can be helped by GPs who understand menopause.

“I could see anywhere between three and 12 women per week who are new menopause consultations,” she said.

“I might feel the need to refer to a specialist menopause clinic once every six months. The level of referral that would be required to specialists clinics would be very low.” 

This leaves most women paying for appointments, she said.

“What is happening at the moment is the cost of care in the community is being borne by the women themselves,” she said.

“We are seeing women coming in their 40s and 50s, they are at a stage in life where the financial burden is increasing.” 

Women might need multiple appointments, at a cost of at least €50 per appointment for private patients.

Menopause services are not covered on medical cards either. 

“It is not fair to expect that women will continue to carry the financial burden of menopause care themselves in the long run,” she said.

“The clinics are really important for that small minority of women who need multidisciplinary input into their menopause care.”

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