Cork maternity hospital defends outpatient waiting list length

Gynaecological outpatient waiting list shrank 20 per cent after audit, says chief

Cork University Maternity Hospital. A validation process was carried out in January on the outpatient gynaecological waiting list. Photograph: Daragh MacSweeney/Provision

Cork University Maternity Hospital. A validation process was carried out in January on the outpatient gynaecological waiting list. Photograph: Daragh MacSweeney/Provision

 

Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH)has defended its handling of outpatient appointments following criticism from Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Mr Harris said lengthy waiting times were due to management decisions rather than a lack of funding.

Figures show almost 4,200 women were waiting for outpatient gynaecological appointments in 2016 at CUMH.

However, these figures were about 20 per cent or 850 people more than the actual situation, according to Cork University Hospital (CUH) chief executive Tony McNamara, who also has responsibility for CUMH.

A validation process was carried out in January on the outpatient gynaecological waiting list where women were contacted. Some 850 said they no longer required an appointment, due to a variety of reasons, including some opting for private care, he said.

Management

Mr McNamara was responding to an interview with Mr Harris during the RTÉ Prime Time programme Living on the List, in which he referred to the long gynaecological waiting lists at CUMH. He said the issue was not about funding but about management.

“It’s coming back to things like how the budget is controlled. It is coming back to management decisions. It is coming back to making sure that you empower clinicians to make decisions. It is too simple to just reduce it to an issue of funding,” Mr Harris said.

According to figures supplied by consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists to Mr Harris when he visited CUMH on January 12th, some 40 per cent of patients, or 1,700 women, on the gynaecological outpatient waiting list were waiting more than 12 months for an appointment.

Mr McNamara said that during his visit, Mr Harris had asked Health Service Executive management at the South/South West Hospital Group (of which CUMH is a member) to draw up a plan within six weeks to target the long waiting times for gynaecological outpatient appointments.

Mr McNamara said he agreed with involving clinicians in management of services and they were centrally involved in decision-making.

Mr McNamara said the maternity hospital was funded out of the €354 million used to fund all services on the CUH complex in 2016. He said it would not be possible to break down the exact cost of running CUMH as it drew on services used by other specialities on the CUH campus.

Funding

However, Dr Cathy Burke consultant gynaecologist/obstetrician and director of gynaecology at CUMH, said funding for the maternity hospital needed to be ring-fenced. She said funding for CUMH had declined from €55 million in 2008 to €34.8million in 2015. Dr Burke said she was not surprised by Mr Harris’s comments as there had been a lack of clarity about the maternity hospital’s budget for several years.

She questioned the accuracy of the validation process carried out by CUMH management and the suggestion that the waiting list was not 4,193.

“We had a situation in 2014 where a company was hired to validate the waiting lists and they took 145 patients off the waiting list without the correct procedure being adhered to.

“What happened was that they sent patients one letter and if they didn’t reply, they took them off the waiting list.

“These were patients who were waiting two years, so they may have changed address and I expressed concern about the validation process. I said I was not happy to stand over this because if the staff are not able to properly validate a list, there’s a huge risk somebody will be missed.

“I became aware recently that no one had been taken off the waiting list for a number of years, so there could be several hundred patients dropping off the list. But when you look at the number of referrals in 2015 and 2016, you still have 40 per cent of patients that cannot be seen within a year.”