Baby check-ups stalled by cuts
Shortage of public health nurses puts infants at risk of lifelong problems
THOUSANDS of infants are losing out on crucial developmental checks because of a shortage of public health nurses.
In some areas, just one in 16 babies is undergoing developmental screening within the required time to pick up on potentially serious problems that there may be with, for example, hearing and eyesight.
All babies should undergo this screening by 10 months of age so that any problems can be dealt with early -- but figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE) have revealed that in Dublin, and other parts of the east, 61pc are being seen within this timeframe.
In the west, 66pc are being screened within 10 months, 83pc are being seen in the north-east and around 89pc are seen in the south.
Certain blackspots have emerged, including Dublin south-west, where just 6pc of children are being screened on time and where the number of public-health nurses has dropped significantly.
In Wicklow, only 17pc are examined by 10 months and in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, the figure is at just 21pc.
A moratorium on recruitment in the HSE has resulted in vacancies remaining unfilled.
If a child fails to reach a milestone or early signs of illness or disease go unnoticed, it could result in lifelong problems.
The developmental checks involve the nurse examining how the infant is gaining control of their body using their head and neck, how they are grasping with their hands and if they are sitting well by about eight months.
It also provides a vital opportunity to test their reactions to noise and response to voices as well as how they are focusing their eyes to determine whether there are any hearing or vision problems.
The nurse can then, if necessary, refer the infant to an area medical officer or GP for further assessment.
Meanwhile, the HSE's target to visit all new mothers within 48 hours of returning home with their newborn is also being missed in many areas.
The visit gives the new mother a chance to get practical advice on issues such as feeding, bathing and settling the infant.
Nearly three in 10 mothers are not being visited on time in the north-east and in the west nearly one in 10 are not getting the service within 48 hours.
Dr Alf Nicholson, a paediatrician at Temple Street Hospital in Dublin, said mothers are sent home from maternity hospitals earlier these days, which means the public health nurse's role is even more important.
"There can be issues arising because mothers go home so early now," he said.
"An examination will have been done in the hospital beforehand. But it's not so much the examination as the reassurance and making the connection with the parents."