A specialist women’s health clinic set up in Lisnaskea in September 2020 to help combat hospital waiting lists has had its services cut by 50 per cent by the Department of Health (DoH), which came into effect on Friday (September 1).

The General Practice Elective Care Service (GPECS) clinic, which is based in Lisnaskea Health Centre and delivers gynaecology services, takes referrals from GP practices in the Southern part of the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

It is understood that the clinic currently operates four days a month, which will be reduced to two days following the reduction of the service by 50 per cent following the DoH’s funding cut.

‘Massive loss’

Dr. Alan Stout, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said the reduction of the service will have a “massive impact” and be a “massive loss” to patients.

He explained that the women’s health clinic covers common gynaecological presentations.

“Heavy bleeding, for instance, it would cover IUDs for contraceptive services, and then menopause services as well.”

This newspaper understands that the clinic also provides assessment and management of urinary incontinence with ring pessary insertion and mirena coil insertion to help treat endometriosis.

Health conditions that can have wider socioeconomic implications for women, affecting them as care givers to dependents or older relatives and in the workplace, and potentially impacting their mental health.

“These are significant problems that affect people day to day and once they have seen their GP and once the treatment and the advice through the GP has been exhausted, they do need that extra level of expertise to try and help the problems that they’re presenting with.

“It’s just completely wrong that they should end up on waiting lists of up to five years. That is simply no service at all,” said Dr. Stout, adding: “This was a [service that had] stepped in as being able to see people quickly and efficiently, and in a local environment. [The cut to the service will have a] massive impact and [be] a massive loss to individual patients.”

He explained that the women’s health clinic in Lisnaskea is part of a wider range of GPECS clinics across Northern Ireland.

Waiting lists

“It’s having a small number of specialist GPs that can see patients without them needing a referral to a [hospital] waiting list and we know how long and how bad our waiting lists are,” said Dr. Stout, noting that the clinics were introduced as a “proper transformation project” to reduce waiting lists and “massively” improve services for patients, as they would be “seen quickly in a local environment by the appropriate person”.

However, Dr. Stout went on to explain that as it is seen as a “transformational project”, he believes that it is an “easy target” whenever funding gets so tight.

“When savings need to be made, the easiest thing by far is to stop things that have have no long term commitments to them.

“And that’s exactly what has happened in this case. It’s an easy target. It’s been reduced by half and some other services have been stopped completely.

“They are relatively new services, but they will all just revert to going on to the waiting lists and we’ll be back to square one.

“We’ll be saying and stating how bad the waiting lists are when the next figures come out but yet we stop the things that are going to help them,” he said.

Despite the cuts to the women’s health clinic, Dr. Stout encourages patients to not disregard their symptoms and still seek medical care through their GP who will continue to refer them on to the specialist service.

“You get a range of symptoms that you will go to your GP and will be treated by your GP and will never need any further referral or investigation or anything else.

“But by definition, these are symptoms that have already been seen by the GP and that onward referral so they are significant and under no circumstances should people not present with them.

“Your GP will continue to try to find the best way to get you seen.

‘Immensely frustrating’

“It’s immensely frustrating for GPs as well because if we refer somebody under the traditional route, we know it’s going to be several years and we know the impact that that has on patients.

“And we know the impact that that has on our own service too because what actually happens is people keep coming back to us multiple times and hence all we do is we hike the pressure on general practice as well,” Dr. Stout told this newspaper.