“You feel worthless. You’re not able to work because you can’t hold yourself up your own legs because your muscles are shaking. Nobody can understand that your body is weak. You’re fighting a disease and inflammation. You’re left suffering but there is no help for you.” This is how Micheal Dunleavy from Belmullet, Co. Mayo, described living with arthritis on RTE’s Morning Ireland recently.
It took Michael over nine years to get an official arthritis diagnosis. Now he has to travel over two hours to Our Lady’s Hospital in Manorhamilton, Leitrim (part of Sligo General Hospital service) to see a consultant rheumatologist. Other people in Northwest Mayo are making a six hour round trip to see a rheumatologist in Galway because there has been no rheumatology service at Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar.
At present, 2,300 people are waiting to be seen by a rheumatologist in the West of Ireland, according to the Saolta University Hospital Group ,which comprises of seven hospitals in the West of Ireland.
Dr. Sandy Fraser, who was the first consultant rheumatologist to be appointed at University Hospital Limerick, also told Morning Ireland that the earlier you diagnose and the earlier you treat arthritis the better the outcome for the patient. He outlined the barriers to preventing damage.
“Inflammation multiplied by time equals damage,” he said. “We can’t change damage once it’s occurred. We can only prevent it happening. We strive as much as we can to pick up early arthritis in patients.”
“The downside to this is that if you don’t look like you have inflammatory arthritis in your referral you’re not considered a priority and it can be a long time before you get seen.”
Dr. Fraser has now been joined by a second rheumatologist in Limerick. However, best practice recommends that there should be five consultant rheumatologists for the population within that the hospital catchment area.
Saolta also stated that it has recently carried out interviews for a new consultant rheumatologist to be located at Our Lady’s Hospital in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, with 11 hours in Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
The hospital group said that this appointment will have a significant impact on the waiting lists across the region and will improve the quality of care for rheumatology patients across the West.