Harris vows to reduce Cork maternity hospital waiting list

Unacceptable that over 4,200 women currently awaiting procedures - Minister

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he would be seeking funding to cut the waiting list numbers at Cork University Maternity Hospital. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has promised to fund a reduction in waiting lists at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) where more than 4,200 women are currently awaiting outpatient gynaecological procedures, with 1,700 waiting more than a year to be treated.

Speaking in advance of meeting consultants at the hospital, Mr Harris would not be drawn on the specific provision of funding to reduce the waiting list but he suggested it could be achieved as part of National Waiting List Action Plan for 2017 and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

According to the hospital's director of gynaecology Dr Cathy Burke, consultants are seeking funding for four specific items which would cost a once off capital outlay of €2.1 million and a current spend thereafter of €2 million annually.

Dr Burke said consultants were seeking the opening of an existing second gynaecological theatre, a one-stop shop earmarked for development in phase two of the reconfiguration of gynaecological cancer services in Cork, a gynaecological day unit and the appointment of four new consultants.


Outpatient list

She told The Irish Times these four measures would have a significant impact on reducing CUMH's gynaecological outpatient list which currently stands at 4,365 with 40 per cent (1,700) of whom are waiting more than 12 months and 20 per cent (800) are waiting more than 18 months.

Mr Harris, speaking during a visit to Mallow General Hospital before visiting CUMH, said such waiting list times were unacceptable and he would be seeking funding to cut the waiting list numbers.

“When did it become acceptable in this country that women have to wait up to two years for certain procedures that could indeed lead to life-saving treatments? It is absolutely appalling and unacceptable that this situation has been allowed to occur over the last number of years,” he said.

Mr Harris acknowledged that it may take more than just funding to reduce the waiting lists at the hospital but he refused to be drawn on the issue of whether CUMH should have its own master similar to the Rotunda and separate from Cork University Hospital (CUH) to manage its funding.

Clearer governance structures

“I have an open mind on governance but I am not coming here today with all the answers, I am coming here to listen to the answers – I do hear from the consultants their view that there does need to be clearer governance structures to protect and perhaps ring-fence the budgets.”

Mr Harris said that he would engage with both consultants at CUMH and management at CUH which has responsibility for funding at CUMH, but he stressed his priority in coming to Cork was to ensure women get proper and timely access to gynaecological services.

He said that the waiting list of more than 4,000 women “often waiting in pain” was “ridiculously and unacceptably long” but since he had come into office, he had overseen the first reduction in two years of overall national waiting lists and that showed that progress could be made.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times