Revealed: Number of children waiting to see specialist jumps from 505 to 8,500 since Government took office
The number of children enduring the most gruelling delays to see a specialist has spiralled to 8,553 - up from 505 since the Government took office, new figures reveal.
These young patients with a range of illnesses, including orthopaedic conditions and heart and vision problems, have already waited at least 18 months to be seen.
This queue of "long waiters" is 17 times higher now than in May 2016 when the Cabinet was appointed.
This is despite a pledge that no child or adult would be waiting longer than 18 months and that those who were suffering the longest delays would be prioritised.
But new figures reveal the extent to which this is failing.
Children on outpatient waiting lists in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, for more than 18 months rose from 236 to a current high of 4,152 in that time.
Temple Street has seen its numbers soar from 163 to 3,509.
Tallaght Children's Hospital is also struggling to cope with demand, with 892 youngsters waiting 18 months to see a specialist compared to 106 when Health Minister Simon Harris took office.
The crisis is not just confined to hospitals and is also affecting children in the community, according to information obtained by Fianna Fáil Dublin West TD Jack Chambers.
"I was shocked to see figures I sought from the HSE on children waiting for a first-time assessment by an occupational therapist.
"There are 5,681 children waiting more than a year for a first assessment or intervention. This has potentially serious consequences for children with a developmental delay or disability.
"Each month without an intervention is costing them a positive outcome in the long term.
"The delay in assessment can also impact on their family's ability to get vital equipment or modifications to their home to make life easier for the child with a disability," he warned.
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There are 8,059 children aged five to 17 years on a list to be assessed by an occupational therapist in Cork's North Lee area alone and 609 are in the queue for more than a year, making it the worst in the country.
It means the distress is being felt among families reliant on hospital care and community services.
Hospitals blame a range of pressures, including a rise in demand for services in the wake of Ireland's recent baby boom coupled with a shortage of consultants and facilities.
A spokeswoman for the three Dublin children's hospitals said the group had submitted business cases to the HSE to develop services to meet demand.
"Part of the rationale for the development of the new children's hospital was the existing physical infrastructure across the hospitals in the children's hospital group," she said.
"An additional €9m has been allocated in the HSE 2018 National Service Plan for paediatric orthopaedics which will include supporting the recruitment of additional staff, including orthopaedic consultants."
Meanwhile, hospital overcrowding was back to peak crisis levels yesterday.
According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), 643 people were in emergency units waiting for admission to a proper bed in a ward.
There were five children on trolleys in Temple Street, eight in the Children's Hospital in Tallaght and two in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
In the first few days of the year, traditionally the worst time for overcrowding, levels soared to a record.
The INMO said the situation was worst at Cork University Hospital, where 59 people were on trolleys, and in the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore, where 51 people were on trolleys. Tallaght Hospital had 45 patients awaiting a bed.