CRUCIAL talks between hospitals and highly paid consultants aimed at cutting long waiting lists for sick children-have been stalled for more than six months.
Internal documents obtained by the Irish Independent have uncovered widespread confusion behind the Health Service Executive (HSE)-led drive as 1,287 children languish on waiting lists.
Meridian Productivity consultants were hired by the HSE to promote more efficient use of hospital theatres in the three children's hospitals in Dublin.
It followed a damning report by Meridian showing Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin; Temple St Hospital; and National Children's Hospital, Tallaght; were significantly under-using operating theatres.
The consultants were hired to advise hospital executives on how to implement the recommendations and improve theatre efficiency.
A number of meetings between the HSE and the consultants took place between September and December.
However, the documents reveal the urgent work was halted for unexplained reasons.
There are 1,287 children on waiting lists across the three hospitals for inpatient and day-case surgical procedures, some of whom have endured delays of over two years.
The documents reveal how the hospitals warned the HSE in May that the process stalled.
"There was no communication from Meridian with the project team in 2011," it states.
A spokesman for Meridian last night said the meetings were due to be held in July.
However, a memo from Meridian in late January said a "next steps" phase was due to begin in February.
The HSE could not elaborate any further on the reasons for the stalled work.
A spokeswoman also refused to say how much it was paying the consultants, saying it was "commercially sensitive".
The Meridian report, based on analysis of the theatres in late 2009, said the hospitals should aim for an 85pc theatre utilisation rate.
The HSE then set a lower target of 70pc last November.
Crumlin hospital said it was now averaging 76pc.
Temple St usage is at 81pc, "although cumulatively it has reached 92pc so far this year".
However, Crumlin's problems are compounded by its failure to open 25 closed beds for more than two years due to lack of funding.
Tallaght hospital has been unable to provide any information on its theatre usage in the children's section.
When asked what improvements it put in place since the Meridian survey, Crumlin said it was doing more operations and procedures -- 41,282 in 2010 compared with 37,828 in 2009.
Temple St said it carried out 7,092 surgical procedures last year compared with 6,155 in 2009.
Although waiting lists have come down in both Crumlin and Temple St this year, the delays are still leaving several children at risk.
In May, there were 1,024 children waiting in Crumlin; 117 were delayed more than a year.
In Temple St, there were 211 waiting, with 37 of these in the queue for more than year.
There are 52 children waiting in the children's hospital in Tallaght.