Patients in West and North-West facing delays as hospitals miss out on new beds and struggle with shortage of consultants
- Hospitals in Saolta University Health Care Group have some of worst waiting lists in the country as over 143,000 people wait for care;
- 4,500 additional patients are now waiting longer than a year for inpatient/day case treatment across the Group compared with 2015;
- Only 36 of the 806 additional acute beds opened nationwide over the past two years were in Saolta Group hospitals – no new acute beds were opened at Galway University Hospitals;
- Consultant recruitment crisis and capacity deficits are root cause of delays in providing care, with 1 in 4 permanent Consultant posts vacant or not filled as needed.
IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine: “Government needs to progress practical plans to expand hospital capacity and Consultant staffing in the West and North-West, without delay. Health service management must make good on promises to provide the extra Consultants, extra beds and extra hospital facilities so badly needed or we will be grappling with waiting lists in the region for the next decade.”
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (23 February 2022) warned that the chronic shortage of acute hospital bed capacity and Consultants across the Saolta University Health Care Group1 is resulting in excessively long waits for treatment that is impacting on patient outcomes and will take years to remedy.
These ongoing capacity and specialist workforce deficits, which predate the pandemic, have resulted in 143,700 patients in the region now waiting for hospital inpatient/day case treatment, GI (gastrointestinal) endoscopies and outpatient appointments, according to the latest available figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund.2
Mounting waiting lists
At 119,959, the total number of people currently awaiting an outpatient appointment in the Saolta Group is greater than it was at the height of the third wave of the Covid pandemic in January 2021, with 5,801 additional people added to these lists.
However, over the past seven years, more than 46,400 people have been added to the outpatient waiting lists at hospitals in the West and North-West region - a 63% increase. Almost half of this increase (22,341 additional people) occurred at Galway University Hospitals (GUH), which now has the largest outpatient waiting list of any single hospital in the entire country at 56,916.
The hospitals concerned and the respective increase in outpatient waiting lists since 2015 include:
|Hospital||January 2015||January 2022||Increase|
|Galway University Hospitals||34,575||56,916||65%|
|Portiuncula University Hospital||3,139||4,446||42%|
|Letterkenny University Hospital||16,035||18,767||17%|
|Mayo University Hospital||5,706||13,720||140%|
|Roscommon University Hospital||2,087||6,701||221% - a 3-fold increase|
|Sligo University Hospital||11,949||19,409||62%|
The number of those forced to wait longer than a year for an outpatient appointment has increased three-fold throughout the Saolta Group over the past seven years to 51,044; with Mayo and Roscommon Hospitals seeing more than a five-fold and eight-fold increase respectively in these 'long waiters' since 2015.
Region missing out on new beds
Analysis of HSE data has shown that of the 806 additional acute beds that were opened nationwide over the past two years up to the end of November, just 36 beds (4%) were in the Saolta Group.3
There were no additional acute hospital beds provided for GUH in the Winter Plan, and none were opened, despite having some of the longest waiting lists in the country.
The hospital now has the third largest Orthopaedics outpatient waiting list in the country (6,775 adults and children), with many of these patients facing excessively long waits for routine procedures such as hip or knee replacements.
There are 683 acute hospital beds in GUH, which is 8% below the national average number of beds on a population basis. To reach the EU average, capacity at the hospital would have to double to over 1,300 beds.4
The IHCA says that waiting lists are likely to worsen in the coming months as more people who have put off seeking care during the pandemic enter the system and the large number of delayed or cancelled operations over the winter period are rescheduled.
Commenting on the waiting lists, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:
“The Government needs to progress practical plans to expand hospital capacity and Consultant staffing in the West and North-West, and throughout the country, without delay. We have a chronic recruitment and retention crisis with 1 in 5 permanent hospital Consultant posts across the country and around 1 in 4 in the Saolta Group either vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis.5
“Too often the health service management appears to be several plans away from a solution. This is no longer acceptable.
“They must make good on promises to provide the extra Consultants, extra beds and extra hospital facilities so badly needed to meet the healthcare needs of the 143,000 people in the region on NTPF waiting lists. Otherwise we will be grappling with these waiting lists for the next decade.
“Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly must also deliver on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ he made to end the pay inequity issue for all Consultants contracted since 2012, and it is essential a new Independent Chair is agreed with the IHCA to allow the resumption of Consultant contract discussions.
“These actions are crucial to attract and recruit the calibre and number of highly trained specialists needed to fill the over 700-plus permanent Consultant posts that are vacant or filled on a temporary basis across our hospitals and bring these waiting lists down.”
1. The Saolta University Health Care Group includes: Galway University Hospitals, Portiuncula University Hospital, Letterkenny University Hospital, Mayo University Hospital, Roscommon University Hospital and Sligo University Hospital.
2. NTFP data as of 27th January 2022: https://www.ntpf.ie/home/nwld.htm
3. HSE PQ response to Deputy David Cullinane, 25th January 2022: https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/personalpq/pq/2021-pq-responses/december-2021/pq-60647-21-david-cullinane.pdf.
4. Galway County had a population of 258,000 at the time of the 2016 Census: https://www.cso.ie/en/census/; Ireland has 2.88 acute hospital beds per 1,000 population compared with an EU27 average of 5.32 (Eurostat).
5. HSE PQ response to Deputy David Cullinane, 16th September 2021: https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/personalpq/pq/2021-pq-responses/september-2021/pq-43289-21-david-cullinane.pdf.
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