The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned of delays for people waiting for planned Gynaecology procedures.

Women in Donegal face an average wait time of 98 days for outpatient gynaecology appointments at Letterkenny University Hospital. As of 28th January 2022, there were 485 females waiting on appointments at LUH.

Waiting times for gynaecology outpatient appointments vary significantly across the country, with Tallaght University Hospital recording the worst waiting time of 652 days. More than 3,000 women were waiting on appointments in January.

Professor Sam Coulter-Smith, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Rotunda Hospital, has said the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years has led to a “perfect storm”, exacerbating existing constraints caused by increased demand, ageing facilities, insufficient capacity and long-standing recruitment challenges.

Around 10-20% of women attending a Gynaecology service will require surgical intervention, either to assess, diagnose or treat a condition. The competing demands for Obstetrics and Gynaecology can lead to long waiting lists for those requiring planned surgical care, which Prof Coulter-Smith says risks leading to delays in cancer investigations or leaving patients to live with painful conditions.

Alongside the potential for missed early cancer diagnoses, conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts can take longer to diagnose and commence treatment, meaning many women face having to live with debilitating pain for months or even years.

Budget 2022 saw €5.3 million committed to enhancing gynaecology services, including the expansion of ‘see and treat’ Gynaecology clinics, specialist menopause clinics, and specialist endometriosis services – but without adequate Consultant staffing, the IHCA say some of these services may face challenges in getting off the ground.

“The bigger teaching hospitals probably find it easier to recruit staff, because that’s where most people want to come to work. The smaller hospitals around the country, where there’s a more general service and there isn’t the same level of sub-specialisation, find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff,” explains Prof Coulter-Smith.