Children may be sent to UK for vital spinal surgery, says Harris
Children who desperately need spinal surgery to treat scoliosis may have to travel to the UK for the procedure.
Health Minister Simon Harris has said this was among the options being examined as part of a new scoliosis plan, which he has just received from the HSE.
The aim is to have no child waiting for surgery for more than four months at the end of the year.
The plight of scores of children, whose spines are deteriorating, causing them pain and damage to organs, has been compounded by the inability to fully open a new state-of -the-art theatre at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin.
The minister, who was before the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday to outline how the €14.1bn allocation to the health service will be spent this year, reiterated that it will be able to do more operations from April and this will be escalated further from July when a new surgeon arrives.
Referring to spiralling waiting lists for children and adults, he said the aim was to have nobody waiting longer than 15 months by October.
The concentration will be on those who are waiting longest, he said.
"The HSE is currently working on the development of a waiting list action plan," he said.
In the past year, hospitals have hired an additional 135 new consultants and although it is hard to fill vacancies in some specialties, the picture overall is "improving".
Questioned on the trolley crisis in emergency departments, Mr Harris said work is to begin this month on next winter's plan.
He has asked the HSE to look at what worked and the failures in the last winter initiative.
He told the committee members that the strain of flu circulating this year was particularly impacting on older people and it has not been seen here since 2009.
The death toll from flu rose to 76 yesterday with most of its victims over 65.
Questioned about the fact that there are just 5,000 public nursing home beds currently available, he said this was due to the need to upgrade services and considerable investment was being made to bring facilities in old buildings up to 21st century standards.
A public consultation process will begin in May to pave the way towards devising a statutory scheme for home care services for the elderly and people with a disability.
The minister said another focus this year will be GP services.
He would like to see a system where some GPs in rural and disadvantaged areas are salaried - rather than self-employed.
This may be the only way of getting around the shortage of family doctors in these areas, he said.
The committee's chairman, Dr Michael Harty, who is a GP in Co Clare, said many out-of-hours GPs have co-ops, because there are not enough doctors.