Children left waiting for arthritis care
Painful condition worsens as delays in treatment lengthen
There has been a 400pc increase in the number of children and teenagers waiting at least 18 months to see an expert in juvenile arthritis according to Arthritis Ireland, which said the increase is "exponential".
"It is as common as childhood diabetes, and figures up to the end of August reveal that 565 children are still waiting to be seen by one of the two specialists," said John Church, chief executive of Arthritis Ireland.
"Of that 565, the number waiting longer than 18 months for that first appointment has jumped 400pc," he added.
The number waiting more than 18 months increased from 22 to 110 between January and the end of August this year, and the charity is calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to appoint a third consultant paediatric rheumatologist.
The two existing consultants are based at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, Dublin and provide care to the 1,200 children aged between three and 16 suffering with the condition.
Darcy White (16) waited for almost two years to be seen. She stressed how important it is to be seen as soon as possible by a rheumatologist: "Had I been seen earlier my condition would not be this aggressive. The pain is excruciating, it often brings me to tears," she said.
The brave teenager from Kildare said she tries to stay positive and hopes that "one day we will manage the pain and I will go into remission." This hope, she said, helps her to stay strong and more determined to fight.
"I wish with all my heart that the services for children with arthritis would improve. Children should not be left waiting in pain. Don't they realise they are robbing our childhood and causing irreparable damage physically and emotionally? Don't they care?" Darcy said.
Her mum Marianne explained the frustration. "If Darcy had seen a consultant earlier, it would have prevented her joints deteriorating further because the damage happens while you are waiting to be seen. This is what is so huge about the need to cut the waiting lists."
"Ireland has only two paediatric rheumatology consultants," Mr Church said. "We are ranked as having one of the lowest number of paediatric rheumatologists in Europe.
"If left untreated, juvenile arthritis can quickly lead to permanent joint damage, muscle wastage and deformity, not to mention the trauma a child and its family experiences. Children deserve better," he said.
In a statement Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin said, "A detailed business case for a third Consultant Rheumatologist and supporting multi-disciplinary resources was submitted to the HSE by Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. The waiting list has increased. All urgent patients have been clinically triaged."