Concern at lack of childcare inspections
Health chiefs were last night warned that children must not be pushed down the priority list after the threat of swine flu was blamed for one-third of creches and childcare facilities remaining uninspected last year.
Inspectors normally sent to check on childcare centres were redeployed by the HSE to swine flu clinics. And with childcare facilities suffering a serious fall in income and high vacancy rates, there are fears that problems could go undetected if inspections continue to drop.
The National Children's Nurseries Association, which represents 900 childcare providers, said the public sector recruitment embargo had contributed to a shortfall in inspections. But they warned that children must not be pushed down the priority list.
NCNA director of policy Teresa Heeney said it was vital that the recession did not drive the country back into having unregulated childcare.
A new survey of NCNA members revealed that 31pc had not received an inspection by the Health Services Executive in 2009.
This was partly due to vacancies in the inspection service not being filled, but the redeployment of pre-school inspectors to swine flu clinics in the last few months of the year had also contributed.
"It is simply not good enough for Irish children to be pushed down the priority list in this way," said Ms Heeney.
"At times like this it is more important than ever to ensure that services are regulated and offering a high standard of care. We must not let the recession bring us back to having unregulated childcare," she said.
There are over 4,000 childcare facilities around the country. Ms Heeney said it was likely that many of these who were not NCNA members had also gone without an inspection. In the past inspections have uncovered serious lapses at creches across the country.