Children with special needs wait two years for assessment
At best a child with special needs is waiting seven months for an assessment, but at worst the wait can be almost two-and-a-half years.
The Oireachtas Health Committee has expressed "alarm" at the long waiting lists for the assessment as well as shortages of therapists affecting some areas.
Figures contained in a draft report by the committee, seen by the Irish Independent, show the significant difference in waiting times across the country during one three-month period last year.
Children in parts of Cork and Kerry are the worst affected by lengthy waiting for an assessment of need, which determines the services a child needs.
The areas with the shortest average waiting times of seven months were Galway, Roscommon and Mayo.
The Cork and Kerry area receives the highest number of applications and produces the highest number of reports, but still has the highest level of overdue assessments. The HSE recorded an average waiting time of 2.5 years for an assessment of need in the second quarter of 2018.
A shortage of therapists and a delay in reconfiguring how healthcare is organised locally were among the reasons cited for the lengthy waiting list.
While acknowledging the pressure on resources, the committee highlighted the fact that a delay in early intervention for children with special needs leads to a higher cost down the line for education and missed opportunities for people.
In addition to various reforms of how local healthcare areas are organised, it also calls for an overhaul of recruitment in order to help address the staffing crisis in child disability services.
The report deals with a change to the standard operating procedure being introduced by the HSE as part of a move to standardise assessments nationally.
However, the committee looks set to recommend that the implementation of the new procedure is delayed until consultation takes place with parents and with front-line therapists.