There has been a "rapid increase" in the number of people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in Ireland, a gastroenterologist has said.
Dr Brian Egan, a consultant at Mayo University Hospital, warned that long waiting lists for appointments essential to the early detection of IBD and cancer worsens these patients' long-term outcomes and quality of life.
Approximately 40,000 people in Ireland already live with IBD, but Dr Egan said there has been a rise of acute liver disease and irritable bowel syndrome over the course of the pandemic.
“The pandemic has had a major impact on gastroenterology throughout the country. Many of us who work in the care of patients with stomach and bowel problems and liver disease were re-allocated in the first wave of the pandemic to treat patients with Covid,” he said.
“It also resulted in an absolute stop of scheduled work, which is essential for early detection and prevention of stomach cancer, bowel cancer and oesophageal cancer.”
Dr Egan said that his team at Mayo University Hospital was seeing “much later presentations of cancer”, often people who have waited months following a referral. He noted that in a small hospital, there are limited specialist resources which means it is almost impossible to keep up with the volume of patients waiting for diagnosis and care in the region.
Almost 17,000 patients are currently on a waiting list to see a gastroenterologist, an increase of 7,000 or 71 per cent since 2015.
Dr Egan was speaking as part of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) campaign, which seeks to highlight issues around capacity and staff shortages in the Irish healthcare system.
Professor Alan Irvine, president of the IHCA, said urgent action was needed in order provide essential care to patients and reduce waiting-list numbers.
“While Irish doctors are among the best in the world, with so many posts unfilled across so many specialities, there is a limit to what we can achieve and that shouldn’t be the case in a developed nation like Ireland,” he said.
“The solution is simple. We must appoint additional consultants and address the long-standing issues of pay inequity and poor working conditions quickly.”
The Government last year published the waiting-list action plan to stem further growth in waiting-list numbers, with a longer term, multi-annual plan being worked on to reduce them.