Hospital theatre will be idle as children suffer on waiting list
A state-of-art operating theatre will remain partly idle for months to come - despite the desperate need of more than 380 children for spinal surgery.
The €5m orthopaedic theatre at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin has been unable to function properly for nearly a year because of a lack of staff.
Doctors have been carrying out only around two spinal operations a week despite the demand.
It has left many young children who suffer from scoliosis, a severe spinal condition, to deteriorate and languish on waiting lists - some for more than 18 months.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who is coming under growing pressure to tackle the waiting list crisis nationally, said yesterday the theatre would provide additional surgery from April for 194 patients.
It followed a meeting with senior children's hospital officials.
However, a spokeswoman for Crumlin Hospital said last night this would be done on a "phased basis".
The spokeswoman declined to explain where the additional staff needed to increase surgery would be found.
Parents were told by the HSE on Monday that the theatre would not be able increase the surgeries until July when additional staff are due to take up work.
The Minister's announcement came as a surprise to the parents who had had a lengthy meeting with HSE officials.
The plight of the children was among the most harrowing testimonies of waiting-list patients who were featured on the RTÉ Investigates 'Living on the List' programme into delays faced by public patients.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show 388 children are on waiting lists for spinal procedures in hospitals in Crumlin, Temple Street, Cappagh and Tallaght ,
A spokeswoman for the children's hospital group said there were 133 spinal fusions treatments for scoliosis conducted in 2016 for children under 16 years and young adolescents between 16 and 18-years-old.
Some 44 of these had to be sent to the UK, where the operations were paid for privately by the HSE.
The hospital has already said it would not be able to fully staff the theatre until July when it hoped that nurses recruited from abroad would take up their posts.
An additional orthopaedic surgeon is also not due to be appointed until June.
A spokeswoman for the children's hospital group said recruitment of theatre nursing staff continued and, until all staff are in place" this new theatre was not providing additional capacity.
She added: "There is a shortage of nurses in specialist areas across the Irish healthcare system, which has required the hospitals to undertake an international recruitment campaign."
The minister set a new target yesterday that no patient would be waiting more than 15 months for surgery by the end of October.
This would mean around 2,000 patients would be removed from the longest waiters list.
The HSE will produce an action plan to reduce the length of time that people are waiting, he added.
And it will use the capacity in private hospitals.
It is also planned to recruit 1,000 nurses under a funded plan this year, he added.
The minister has previously said he was ashamed and heartbroken at the extent of suffering depicted by the children.