GPs urge new endometriosis centre
Doctors have called for a new centre of excellence in Northern Ireland for treating a debilitating women's disease which can cause infertility.
Waiting lists for patients to be investigated for suspected endometriosis should be shorter and more co-ordinated management of the condition could reduce delay, Dr Frances O'Hagan said.
Up to 2,000 women in Northern Ireland are suffering unnecessarily because of problems with treatment, campaigners claimed.
Dr Frances O'Hagan, a GP from Armagh who represents the BMA, said: "GPs are very familiar with a range of gynae conditions and the referral of patients for specialist treatments so the provision of a new centre of excellence for treating endometriosis would be welcomed."
The condition is a non-cancerous growth of abnormal tissue similar to the lining of the womb in the ovaries and pelvis area. It can spread to other parts of the body, producing immense pain.
Dr O'Hagan said most of her colleagues recognised the disease early but could not confirm it until surgery was carried out.
"GPs would like much shorter waiting lists for patients to be seen in gynae and shorter waiting lists to having their investigations so the patients can have the diagnosis we suspect confirmed so treatment can be given appropriately and in a timely manner, as this is a very painful condition in most cases," she added.
"We would also hope for a co-ordinated management of any new service, which will reduce the need for the use of the independent sector, which often can cause confusion and delays in appointments, results and follow up.
"Speaking as a GP in Armagh I am unsure if I want all my patients to have to travel great distances for this service unless of course it would speed up the patient journey and vastly improve the patient experience, by having a shorter time to diagnosis and hence management of this very debilitating condition started much sooner."
She is a member of the BMA's Northern Ireland GP committee.
Patients are calling for quicker diagnoses through better education of doctors about the condition and changes to how medical services are delivered.
One in 10 women of childbearing age in Northern Ireland have endometriosis and one in 10 of those will have the moderate to severe form. The non-malignant growth can spread to the bowel, bladder, diaphragm or other parts of the body.
Treatment plans involving gynaecologists, surgeons and urologists, as well as specialists in pain medicine, clinical psychology, specialist nurses and others are needed to deliver optimal care, reduce distress and give them the best possible chance of bearing children, patients added.
A spokesman for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) recognised that a diagnosis of endometriosis can have a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of women.
"Endometriosis services are mainly provided in a primary care setting as the condition can often be managed by the prescription of painkillers; however, where more specialist input is required, GPs will refer the patient to the gynaecology service, where they can expect to be managed and treated on an individual basis according to the specialist's clinical judgement," he said.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is developing a business case for a dedicated endometriosis service for a specific group of patients. Once this is finalised, it will be a matter for the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), as commissioner of services, to consider the commissioning of the proposed service, subject to competing priorities for available resources.
The spokesman added: "The HSCB is satisfied that GPs are very aware of the possibility of endometriosis in females and there is a clinical pathway of treatment and referral that they follow. GPs attend regular education sessions through the year which covers the whole gamut of conditions that they encounter in practice. If deemed necessary, sessions on endometriosis could be included within this programme."