Babies at risk from failure to provide screening on time
JUST one in two babies in some areas of the country is getting crucial health checks on time – increasing the risk of delayed diagnosis of developmental problems or even cerebral palsy.
Children should have this free screening in HSE clinics before the age of 10 months but thousands are facing delays due to a lack of public health staff.
New figures show that one in 10 nationally misses out on screening within the recommended time but in some blackspots, such as Roscommon, the number being checked on time is as low as 52pc.
Delays are a cause of concern because these checks can be key to picking up any signs of problems, such as the baby's inability to sit up properly, eyesight difficulties or other potential disabilities, allowing treatment as early as possible.
If a child fails to reach a milestone or early signs of illness or disease go unnoticed, it could have life-long consequences.
If a child is not learning a skill that other children are developing at the same age it may be a warning sign that they may be at risk for developmental delay.
Dr Joanne Balfe, a paediatrician in Tallaght Hospital Dublin, told the Irish Independent that at seven to nine months "developmental screening assesses motor skills and social skills.
"Developmental disorders that may be identified at this stage include conditions such as cerebral palsy and global developmental delay".
A lack of public health nurses, in particular, is being blamed for the delays in checking. It also means not every newborn is visited by a nurse within 48 hours of going home.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said the target for 2013 was to see 95pc of children screened on time. At the end of November, it had reached 88.1pc.
A service plan has been put in place to improve waiting times. However, because of the legal onus on the HSE to carry out vaccinations in schools, this must be prioritised during the academic term.
Dr Balfe pointed out that developmental screening in children gives health staff a chance to "take seriously any concerns raised by parents".
Regular screening provides an opportunity for health promotion and parental support, for example, advice regarding healthy eating and behaviour.
"Regular contact with healthcare professionals, such as GPs, public health nurses or community health doctors provides valuable opportunities for parents to express concerns about their child's development or behaviour."
The newborn hearing screening is being rolled out nationally and has led to a significant improvement in the early recognition of hearing impairment in children, she pointed out.
"In my work in Dublin south-west, I have not had personal experience of problems being missed in children due to the delays in routine health screening.
"Parents are usually very well attuned to their child's development, particularly motor skills, and will seek medical advice when children fail to meet developmental milestones.
"However, I fully support and value the very important work of my colleagues in primary care."