Ireland has a critical shortage of consultant dermatologists at a time when cases of skin cancer are increasing and early detection can be key to saving lives, according to the Irish Skin Foundation.
On its own, the increasing instance of skin cancer threatens to overwhelm dermatology services. However, the systemic shortage also affects thousands of people with psoriasis, eczema and other difficult skin conditions requiring hospital care.
In recent years demand has outstripped capacity in hospital dermatology clinics. At the same time, the HSE has not provided sustained resources for additional posts or investment in clinic infrastructure and development. With small numbers of specialist registrars in training and challenging working conditions, locum and permanent posts in dermatology services are not easily filled.
“We need at least one dermatologist per 62,500 people to provide an effective service” says David McMahon, Head of Advocacy with the Irish Skin Foundation. “Dermatology clinics lack spare capacity; there is little or no room to cope with predictable eventualities such as illness and maternity leave”.
“With year-on-year increases in referrals, policy makers must do more to address the issues affecting services or patients will experience even longer waiting times, delayed diagnosis and treatment”.
Dermatology services are in high demand
Increasing demand for dermatology services is driven primarily by rising occurrence of skin cancer, increased diagnosis of other major skin diseases like psoriasis, greater complexity in treatment and the aging of our population.
The ISF says that this is most worrying in situations where a patient has a suspected melanoma. “However, people with psoriasis, eczema, hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) and other skin diseases experience life-limiting effects, serious co-morbidities and also deserve timely access to dermatology services”.
The ISF also reminded patients that ‘catchment area’ can no longer be used to refuse a patient access to care in a particular hospital; GPs are now permitted to refer you to any hospital (of your choice) nationwide.