ENT patients at LUH waiting five years to be seen – IHCA

A Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon in the North-West has warned of the long-term impact on patients across the country who face delays of up to 5 years on hospital waiting lists for some of the most common ENT conditions and procedures.

Speaking in a special video released today by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Ms Mary Bresnihan, a Consultant ENT Surgeon in Sligo and Letterkenny says that ENT procedures are often subject to delays and have some of the longest waiting lists as a result. This, she says, leads to a risk of cancers not being detected.

Across the North West, there are 7,000 people on the ENT waiting list, and in Letterkenny, she says some people may wait five years to be seen…………

 

The full video can be watched HERE

Release in full –

77,000 people on ENT waiting lists, some waiting up to five years — cancer diagnoses could be missed, says surgeon

Ear, nose, and throat waiting lists are some of the longest across all specialties

  • Almost 77,000 people waiting on an ENT hospital list with over half (57%) waiting longer than a year to see a consultant or receive treatment;
  • More than 20,000 additional people (+41%) on ENT outpatient waiting lists compared with 2015;
  • Number of those waiting longer than a year for an ENT outpatient appointment with a consultant has increased by over 29,000 in the past six years – a 3-fold increase;
  • Ongoing severe consultant shortages mean that some people are waiting up to five years to be seen by an ENT specialist;
  • Ms Mary Bresnihan, Consultant ENT Surgeon: “One of the biggest concerns is the potential for missed cancer diagnoses. People with voice or throat issues for example who may not seem urgent initially, could in fact be presenting with symptoms of a tumour that, without the chance for investigation or assessment, risk going undiagnosed while they sit on a waiting list deemed ‘non-essential’.”

A Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon in the North-West has warned of the long-term impact on patients across the country who face delays of up to 5 years on hospital waiting lists for some of the most common ENT conditions and procedures.

Speaking today (10 November 2021) on behalf of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), Ms Mary Bresnihan*, a Consultant ENT Surgeon at Sligo University Hospital, said that ENT procedures are often subject to delays and have some of the longest waiting lists as a result.

“We’re talking about common conditions like tonsillectomies, for example, where surgery could be managed through day-case procedures without a need for complex surgery or lengthy stays in hospital.

“But we face challenges even getting to see and assess the patient in the first place. When we do, and we schedule treatment, these patients can unfortunately—regularly—be at the mercy of emergency or other priorities taking theatre slots at the last minute.”

Such delays have led to a situation where there are now almost 77,000 people nationally on some form of ENT waiting list. The outpatient waiting lists alone have increased by more than 20,000 over the past six years (+20,948, or 41%).

The number of people waiting longer than a year for an outpatient ENT appointment with a hospital consultant has increased by over 29,000 since 2015, a three-fold increase to 42,565. In all, 57% of those awaiting either an assessment by a Hospital Consultant or inpatient/day case treatment have been waiting longer than a year.

Ms Bresnihan believes that until the Government gives greater priority to tackling waiting lists for scheduled essential surgery and procedures, many patients will continue to face long waits and reduced health outcomes.

Planned care is still essential

Many ENT conditions, including those that that do not require emergency or complex procedures, have a significant impact on a person’s standard of living, especially Ireland’s youngest patients where development and education can be set back because of untreated issues.

“People are getting worse while they’re sitting on these lists, to the point where we can no longer reverse the problems like we could have if they had been operated on in a timely manner.

“One of the biggest concerns is the potential for missed cancer diagnoses. People with voice or throat issues, for example, who may not seem urgent initially, could in fact be presenting with symptoms of a tumour that, without the chance for investigation or assessment, risk going undiagnosed while they sit on a waiting list deemed ‘non-essential’”, said Ms Bresnihan.

Vacancies a key barrier to care

While nationally one in five hospital consultant posts are not filled as needed, Ms Bresnihan said that the situation across the North-West is worse.

“Between Letterkenny and Sligo hospitals, there are 7,000 people waiting to be seen—but there are only four ENT consultants. It’s an impossible task. At the moment, you could be waiting up to five years at Letterkenny to see a consultant ENT surgeon.”

Reflecting on her time as a student, she noted that the situation has only worsened over the past 15 years: “I remember when I was studying ENT, a consultant had received a letter from a GP referring on someone with tonsillitis. He said to me that the tragedy of that letter was the patient would never be seen, because he only had the ability to address urgent cases. And things haven’t changed since then.”

In the Saolta Group**, around one in four approved consultant posts are either vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis (119 of 479 approved posts as at 4 May 2021).*** Without filling these posts as needed and appointing significant additional consultants, Ireland’s waiting lists will never be brought under control.

Beds and staffing critical to tackling waiting lists

Ms Bresnihan said that the delivery of dedicated day beds is critical for ENT in particular: “We need to see protected beds for ENT surgery, meaning when pressure hits the system, we still have a dedicated number of beds to continue with procedures and not face constant delays or cancellations.”

Extending the operating hours of these beds would have a significant impact on the efficient management of waiting lists in this speciality—but these beds must be fully staffed with adequate consultant, other medical and allied health resources.

With a record 910,000 people now on a waiting list across the country, the IHCA says that urgently addressing the consultant recruitment and retention crisis is critical to the survival of the health service into the future.

The IHCA says the success of the ongoing consultant contract discussions must deliver on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ made by the Minister for Health to resolve the pay inequity issue for all consultants contracted since 2012.

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