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*A centralised hub has opened in Nenagh. 

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE confirmed there are no plans to expand the gynaecology department at Ennis Hospital.

At the end of March, figures detailed that the average wait time for a gynaecology appointment at Ennis Hospital was close to one year and five months, the second longest in the country, behind Tallaght Hospital. In comparison, the waiting times at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) averaged at 291 days.

Up to 599 women are waiting for appointments in Ennis with 1,455 at UHL.

Both Cllr Liam Grant (GP) and Cllr Mary Howard (FG) both flagged the matter at a recent sitting of the HSE Regional Forum West, the former questioned the plans “to reduce the shocking wait times”.

CEO of UL Hospitals Group, Colette Cowan in a lengthy reply referred to the “significant disruption” caused by COVID-19 to health services across Ireland, ‘a particular impact’ has been experienced when it comes to scheduled care which “added to already long waiting lists”.

She added, “There are a number of scheduled care initiatives operating across UL Hospitals Group to address waiting lists. These come under the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), Hospital Safety Net Service Agreement and the Advanced Clinical Prioritisation Programme. Under the Private Hospital Safety Net Service Agreement, UL Hospitals Group has referred urgent surgical and medical cases to private hospitals”.

In March, a regional hub for women’s health was opened in the €1.5m outpatients department at Nenagh Hospital to “improve access to diagnostics and reduce wait times for specialist care for women in the Mid-West. The development of this new regional hub will ultimately reduce gynaecology wait times in Ennis Hospital and the entire Mid-West region. An ambulance gynaecology unit, menopause clinic and subfertility service are included in the hub which she was confidence would reduce the waiting times in the region. Not all of the facilities are presently open.

Women can be treated at the hub following a GP referral and comes under the clinical governance of University Maternity Hospital Limerick, Cowan outlined. Services provided include abnormal intrauterine bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, evaluation of adnexal mass, vulval issues, sexual minority health and amenorrhea in adolescence. Pelvic ultrasound, diagnostic hysteroscopy and endometrial biopsy are also available. Treatments and minor procedures available in the clinic include both cervical and endometrial polypectomy and intrauterine device management. A specialist menopause clinic is also to open in Nenagh, initially entailing one consultant clinic and one GP clinic per week, a clinical nurse specialist is also to be recruited.

Ms Cowan stated, “Improving menopause services has been identified as a priority by the Women’s Health Taskforce and the Nenagh clinic is among the first four in the country to open through funding announced by the Minister for Health in Budget 2022. While the majority of women seeking help in menopause will continue to be treated and supported by their GP, it is anticipated that around 25% of women will meet the clinical criteria for onward referral to specialist services such as Nenagh”.

Cllr Howard had requested that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly (FF) “approve and allocate funding for both equipment and the recruitment of appropriate personnel” for the gynaecology department in Ennis.

While she welcomed the plans for Nenagh, Cllr Howard insisted, “we need something in Clare, people might not have cars of be able to get to Nenagh” while arguing that expertise and equipment was needed for the Banner County. “You don’t go to a gynaecologist on a whim, you go because you’re in pain. People’s mental health can be affected, it can be debilitating. Behind every single one of these numbers is a woman with very worrying symptoms, delayed care always lead to poorer outcomes”.

Ennis native Howard outlined, “I don’t recall any scandal to do with men’s health” while pointing out that all the big issues and failings in the Irish health service seem to affect women the most. “It is a women’s issue but you all have wives, partners, daughters, girlfriends, sisters or mothers, if something happens who is left holding the baby”.

Chief Operations Officer with UL Hospitals Group, Noreen Spillane in response said the new hub in Nenagh was “a centralised area, people from all over the region can attend, it’s where the expertise is”. She added, “the new centre will address a lot of the issues we haven’t been able to address”.

In response, Cllr Howard questioned were there such plans for an Ennis hub to which Ms Spillane replied, “not at the minute”. Howard then commented, “that is very disappointing, women caring for children or the elderly might not have capacity to get to Nenagh”.

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