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Consultant resignations and failed recruitment campaigns directly led to poor compliance with BowelScreen targets at Ennis Hospital last year, the CEO of University of Limerick (UL) Hospitals told the HSE’s head of acute services. The correspondence was seen by the Medical Independent (MI) following a Freedom of Information request.
The situation led to the hospital not taking new referrals for a period in 2018.
In July 2018, UL Hospitals CEO Ms Colette Cowan informed Mr Liam Woods that a consultant and locum cover had resigned “leaving one consultant managing a list and normal service delivery”.
“We have been to advert twice with no success for gastroenterologists and are now going to a third round of advertisements,” Ms Cowan outlined.
Routine lists were growing with some outsourcing through funding from the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Urgent colonoscopies were “consistently maintained with only one breach during Storm Emma”.
Ms Cowan referenced discussions with “a locum cover from Scotland to assist”. She added that the Group could seek a temporary reduction in screening referrals as a “very last option”.
Under BowelScreen quality standards, at least 90 per cent of patients should be offered a colonoscopy appointment date within 20 working days from when they were deemed clinically suitable following pre-assessment.
The HSE is now basing performance on the offer of an appointment within the timeframe, rather than attendance.
A UL Hospitals spokesperson said Ennis Hospital was “currently compliant with BowelScreen waiting times” and the programme is now run by two consultant gastroenterologists. “No new referrals were being seen for a period in 2018 when the service was down one consultant post. Since the second consultant has returned, new referrals are again being seen.”
Some 69.23 per cent of patients at Ennis were scheduled within 20 working days and a further 7.69 per cent declined their first appointment, according to the BowelScreen Endoscopy Waiting Times Activity Report for February.
Across BowelScreen screening hospitals, 66.81 per cent of patients were scheduled within 20 working days and a further 10.48 per cent declined their first appointment.
The nurses’ strike impacted on some waiting times during this period, according to the HSE.