Wednesday 23 May 2018

Over 2,000 under-fives on therapy waiting list

2,159 children seeking occupational therapy are left in queue, figures show

Location: Access to speech therapy is a geographical issue Stock photo: Getty Images / iStockphoto
Location: Access to speech therapy is a geographical issue Stock photo: Getty Images / iStockphoto
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Over 2,000 vulnerable children under the age of five are waiting to be assessed for occupational therapy, damning new figures reveal.

In addition, nearly 850 people are now waiting over 18 months for speech and language treatment.

In total, some 8,580 people are in the queue to be seen by a specialist.

Waiting lists are most acute in Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny and Roscommon, as well as parts of Dublin and Cork.

Out of approximately 8,580 patients nationally waiting for an initial speech and language therapy session, some 2,322 are based in Dublin.

HSE figures reveal 1,434 are located in Wexford, while 1,165 are waiting for treatment in Cork.

Meanwhile, figures for those seeking an initial assessment with a speech and language therapist paint an equally bleak picture - with over 13,380 people countrywide languishing on waiting lists. Some 4,108 of these are based in the capital, with 433 in Limerick and 696 in Laois/Offaly.

A recent report by Inclusion Ireland finds that a child's access to speech and language therapy is greatly influenced by where they live.

Wexford and Donegal have more than 300 children - classified as having complex needs - for each speech and language therapist available.

This is in contrast to the areas designated as Cork South Lee and Wicklow, which have less than 100 such children for each specialist employed.

Inclusion Ireland has also discovered that this country is in breach of the recommended number of children who should be assigned to each therapist.

No health area in Ireland comes close to meeting the suggested therapist/child ratio. The national average is 162 children per therapist - but according to international research this figure should be between 30 and 65.

To meet international standards the number of speech and language therapists working in children's disability services would have to at least double from its current level of 283 to 565.

According to the report, another problem is that as many as 10pc of speech and language therapy staff may be on leave, at any given time.

This includes maternity leave, leave of absence, and illness leave.

New HSE figures also show the number of occupational therapists employed by the State has increased by 192 in the past five years.

An additional 125 physiotherapists, 234 psychologists, and 69 speech and therapy specialists, were taken on over the same period.

Overall, 619 extra staff are now employed in the disability sector to deal with children and adults requiring treatment in this area.

But despite the increase in staffing numbers, extensive waiting lists remain.

Inclusion Ireland research shows some families are incurring a serious financial burden, by having to pay for services they cannot obtain through the public system.

Sunday Independent

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