Consultant recruiting crisis leaves 47,000 sick children trapped in waiting list limbo
More than 47,000 children are waiting to see a specialist in one hospital group because of a consultant recruitment crisis, figures have revealed.
But the true scale of the waiting lists is even worse and hidden from public view, according to a leading health campaigner.
The waiting list has risen to 47,255 at the Children's Health Ireland Hospital Group (CHIHG) - responsible for Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght Hospitals in Dublin.
Professor Alf Nicholson, RCSI Professor of Paediatrics and consultant paediatrician at Temple Street, said: "It's very unacceptable to have a waiting time of anything other than three to six months, at most, for a young child or infant to see a specialist.
"Sadly, at the moment our wait times are well above that, and that is very distressing.
"The effects that long waiting lists have on patients is significant.
"It is solvable if we bring in new specialists - specialists that should already be a part of the health service system."
The figures were released by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association's (IHCA) Care Can't Wait campaign.
The IHCA said waiting lists at the hospital group had increased by over 46pc since June 2016.
The 47,255 children waiting to see a paediatrician for an outpatient appointment in the three hospitals come from all over the country.
Of these, more than 19,000 have been waiting for more than 12 months.
Almost 8,000 children are waiting for a paediatric ENT specialist, with 5,165 waiting to see a paediatric cardiologist.
The number waiting to see a specialist in orthopaedics is 3,735, while 1,989 are waiting to see a paediatric surgeon.
The IHCA said the lack of consultant paediatricians across all is "contributing massively to growing waiting times".
Currently one in five permanent consultant posts in the public health service is either unfilled or filled by temporary appointments.
Claire Cahill, of the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, which represents families waiting for life-changing surgery, said that although the figures at the CHIHG were startling, they did not represent a truly national picture.
"Ireland does not currently maintain child-specific wait lists," Ms Cahill said.
"This means that we do not know just how many children are languishing for care across the HSE.
"There are also thousands of children who are hidden on wait lists across the HSE - all counted and reported as adult waiters.
"The establishment of child-specific wait lists and target wait times for the outpatient department for children was a recommendation of the Ombudsman for Children's report on Scoliosis.
"These recommendations have never been implemented.
"We ask how can the HSE plan and develop services for children when they do not know just how many children require care?
"Children are a vulnerable cohort of patients and they must be safeguarded from harm and injury that long waits for care can result in."
A spokesperson for Children's Health Ireland said it "regrets any long wait a patient and their family has for an outpatient appointment".
It said recruitment was underway for more consultants in the specialities with the longest waiting times and it had secured funding under the National Purchase Treatment Fund "to address access to patients for specialities, such as ENT".