Wednesday 17 October 2018

Government will not hit target on waiting times for scoliosis surgery

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The Government's promise to have no child waiting for longer than four months for scoliosis surgery at the end of this year will not be met.

There are 156 children on the "active waiting list" for an operation to correct their painful and disabling spinal condition.

Around 68 of these young patients had been promised surgery before the end of December - but this will not be possible in all cases despite the seriousness of their condition.

Some of the children will face 2018 still languishing on a waiting list but with just "an appointment for surgery".

Health Minister Simon Harris denied claims by the disappointed families in groups such as ScolioNetwork that the 'goalposts had been moved' to disguise the failure to meet the action plan pledge to reduce waiting times to four months by the end of 2017.

Claire Cahill, of ScolioNetwork, representing families, said it cannot support "any setting aside of the four-month target" for children who are deemed clinically in need of surgery.

"We are not asking anything more of the HSE only that it implements its own action plan," she said.

There is the added crisis of children on outpatient waiting lists to a see an orthopaedic surgeon for up to two-and-a-half years while their condition deteriorates.

A spokeswoman for the minister said the numbers on the active waiting list had dropped from 312 in February and a group made up of doctors, advocacy groups and hospital representatives was in place to design a "patient-centred approach" to the problem.

However, parents now fear that 2018 will see no improvement in waiting times with the orthopaedic theatre in Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin idle for most of the week due to staff shortages.

The plan this year has involved carrying out surgery in Dublin hospitals as well as in the UK and Germany.

Parents said the most up-to-date figure they had is that 210 children were waiting but health officials insist this has now reduced.

A spokeswoman for the children's hospital group was last night unable to give any timeline for expansion of surgery for children in Dublin hospitals next year.

The plan is to stabilise the number of surgeries carried out in Ireland next year.

It will take a period of time to implement and the sending of children to hospitals abroad needs to be phased out, she added.

However, it will be 2019 before all children who need surgery will receive it in a "timely manner" according to their clinical needs, she added.

The HSE did not respond to queries yesterday despite it drawing up the action plan. HSE chief Tony O'Brien no longer tweets about the plan.

Irish Independent

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