A severe shortage of hospital consultants in Cork is heaping further pressure on waiting lists with one-in-five permanent consultant posts unfilled, and the county is one of the worst performing in the country on waiting list numbers.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has said the shortage of consultants across Cork, combined with bed capacity deficits, is leaving some patients unable to access timely, high-quality medical and surgical care.
On bed capacity, the IHCA said that just 19 additional inpatient and day case beds are open across six hospitals in Cork compared with three years ago. This is less than 3% of the additional number opened nationally.
A further 2,300 people were added to waiting lists for outpatient care in the six hospitals in the Cork region in 2022. This compared to a 4% fall nationwide in the number of people on waiting lists.
Collectively, Cork University Hospital, Cork University Maternity Hospital, Mercy University Hospital, South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital, Bantry General Hospital, and Mallow General Hospital, were 17,400 outpatient procedures and appointments away from meeting their reduction targets for the end of 2022.
Currently, more than 84,400 people are awaiting an outpatient appointment or inpatient/day case procedure across Co Cork.
In a statement, consultants raised their concerns that the number of people on hospital waiting lists in Cork could reach new record highs in the months ahead.
This would be through a combination of the unprecedented spike in hospital overcrowding, the longstanding deficits in hospital capacity and the record vacant consultant posts in the region, the IHCA said.
IHCA president Professor Robert Landers pointed to a “chronic recruitment and retention crisis” on the number of unfilled consultant posts, with 73 either vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis.
The figure nationally is over 900 unfilled consultant posts.
“This has led to a situation where we have more than 84,400 people awaiting an outpatient appointment or inpatient/day case procedure in hospitals across Cork and 140,000 in total across the South/ South-West,” he said.
“This is 40,000 more than the number waiting for care across the region eight years ago.
“Cork hospitals have seen the average number of available inpatient and day case beds increase by just 19 beds over the past three years to 1,478 beds. This equates to less than 3% of the total number of additional hospital beds opened nationally since the start of the pandemic.”
Professor Landers said this was a “shocking indictment” of the lack of urgency on the part of the health service management to address the bed capacity deficits in the region, which he said would relieve some of the chronic hospital overcrowding seen this winter.
However, reducing the number of people on waiting lists will only be possible by filling these posts and by appointing “significant” additional consultants, he added.