92,281 Limerick hospital appointments cancelled during pandemic

Aontú Limerick representative Sarah Beesley outside University Hospital Limerick.

98,281 hospital appointments were cancelled at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the Covid pandemic.

According to figures released to political party Aontú, 35,261 appointments at UHL were cancelled in 2019. This increased to 50,594 in 2020 and 41,687 in 2021.

In the same timeframe, 24,244 appointments were rescheduled at UHL in 2019, 52,073 in 2020 and 50,533 the following year.

Aontú representative in Limerick, Sarah Beasley, this week expressed deep  concern about the high level of cancellations in the past two years.

“How many people suffered missed diagnosis for cancer and other health issues as a result of these delays?” she asked.

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“While many of the Covid-19 restrictions may have been warranted, we don’t believe that the health service should have been shut down to the extent that it was,” Ms Beasley commented.

“Aontú are calling on the government to significantly increase funding so that we can catch up on these shortfalls in the appointments, treatments and diagnostic services. The government needs to undertake an assessment of the impact lockdowns and restrictions had on the health of the population.” she added.

The Irish Cancer Society has for some time been highlighting the need to bolster cancer services in preparation for a ‘catch-up’ trend for patients whose diagnosis may be delayed due to the pandemic.

They told the Limerick Post that these latest figures highlight the challenges posed for cancer treatment, in particular.

“We know that up to 14 per cent fewer cancer cases were diagnosed in 2020, so it is absolutely essential that our health services are properly resourced to deal with extra demand from those not diagnosed or who had appointments cancelled in 2020 and 2021 as we move out of the emergency phase of the pandemic,” said Irish Cancer Society policy and public affairs manager Paul Gordon.

The Irish Cancer Society spokesman went on to say that unacceptable delays in accessing surgery and treatment can lead to reduced chances of survival for patients, who may already be seeking help at a later stage than before the pandemic.

“We again urge the government to put in place protected pathways for cancer care so that access to hospital beds and operating theatres is not an issue, or we risk seeing a situation where patients’ symptoms are left to worsen as they remain on waiting lists for lengthy periods.

“Finally we would urge anyone with a cancer-related concern to seek medical help as soon as possible, and anyone with queries on potential signs of cancer can contact our Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.”

In a response to Aontú TD Peadar Tóibin on the number of hospital appointments cancelled at UHL, the UL Hospitals Group said it is committed to ensuring that all patients whose appointments were deferred during the Covid-19 pandemic will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

“Time-critical cases remain prioritised, and the hospital is directly contacting patients about their new appointments as soon as these are scheduled. In addition, theatre lists have resumed across UHL, St John’s, Ennis, Nenagh and Croom Orthopaedic Hospitals. Outpatients departments in the hospital are also at full resumption.”