Cork gynaecologists welcome pledge on maternity hospital

Simon Harris commits €14m to tackle waiting list for outpatient appointments

Minister for Health Simon Harris: committed to upgrading  services at Cork University Maternity Hospital. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Health Simon Harris: committed to upgrading services at Cork University Maternity Hospital. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Gynaecologists at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) have welcomed a commitment by Minister for Health Simon Harris to spend up to €14 million to tackle a 4,600-plus long waiting list for outpatient appointments as part of an upgrading of the services generally at the Cork hospital.

Consultant gynaecologist/obstetrician and director of gynaecology at CUMH Dr Cathy Burke said Mr Harris was “very supportive” and pledged to commit the necessary funds to implement a four-year plan to upgrade maternity and gynaecological services when consultants met him on Thursday.

“The meeting went very well. We presented him with a phased introduction of our 2017-2020 development plan that we want for the service at CUMH. We had been in touch with his officials in advance and he said he would give a commitment in writing to the funding of the whole package,” she said.

Earlier this year, Dr Burke and her fellow consultant gynaecologists met Mr Harris during a visit to CUMH where they briefed him on what was required to tackle long waiting lists for both surgeries and outpatient appointments which have seen the latter grow to more than 4,600 women.

Among the items that the consultants were seeking was funding to increase procedures at one CUMH operating theatre from three and four days a week to five days a week and the opening and five-day operation of a fully equipped second operating theatre that has never been used.

One-stop shop

Consultants were also seeking other facilities to help reduce the waiting lists including a one-stop shop earmarked for development in phase 2 of the reconfiguration of gynaecological cancer services in Cork but there has been no mention of the project with three years.

They also want a gynaecological day unit within the hospital which would provide more beds. This would allow the second theatre to become operational five days a week, 12 hours a day. They are also seeking the appointment of five more full-time gynaecological consultants.

Dr Burke said the phased plan presented to Mr Harris at the Department of Health in Dublin involved the recruitment of local gynaecologists and the use of operating theatres at the Mater Private in Cork by CUMH consultants as an interim measure to tackle waiting lists.

“Realistically, the opening of the second ‘gynae’ theatre won’t happen this year because it’s very difficult to find a trained theatre nurse anywhere in the country, so we are going to have to advertise, recruit and train the theatre nurses from scratch; that’s not going to happen until 2018,” she said.

“But using our own consultants at the Mater Private facilities, we can stand over the quality of the work done, and our aim is to clear the list of those waiting more than 12 months for surgeries and clear those waiting more than 18 months for an outpatient appointment by year end.”

Interim funding

Dr Burke said that interim funding of €1.2 million, which is coming this year from the HSE South/South West Hospital Group, would allow CUMH to hire the locum consultants and carry out the surgical work in the Mater Private to reduce the waiting lists by year end.

Dr Burke was one of four consultants along with colleagues Dr Matt Hewitt, Dr John Coulter and clinical director of maternity services at CUMH Prof John Higgins who met Mr Harris and his officials in Dublin for over an hour on Thursday.

She paid tribute to Mr Harris and his staff for their commitment at the meeting which was also attended by HSE South/South West Hospital Group chief executive Gerry O’Dwyer and chief operations officer Ger O’Callaghan and Cork based Independent Senator Colette Kelleher.

Speaking after the meeting, Prof Higgins told The Irish Times: “Today on our 10th birthday as a hospital, we could not have asked for a better birthday present for CUMH and the women of Cork that we look after than the response we got from Minister Harris.”