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Medics offer to do spine ops for free but children still left waiting

ONE of the country's leading orthopaedic surgeons last night revealed how children in urgent need of major spinal operations are languishing on waiting lists -- despite donors giving free implants and doctors donating their time for free.

Pat Kiely, a surgeon in Tallaght Hospital and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin told the Irish Independent he had received a donation of spinal implants worth tens of thousands of euro which could be used on youngsters with severe back deformities.

But despite the fact that he and other medical staff are offering to operate for free, they have been unable to secure hospital theatres and other necessary back-up to go ahead with the operations.

He spoke of his frustration at the situation on the eve of operating on Jason Slevin (18), from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, who is to undergo the first stage of spinal surgery in the Blackrock Clinic today.

Jason, who suffers from severe deformity, touched the heart of a generous donor when he recently featured on RTE's 'Prime Time'.

He must be carried from his bed to a chair by his mother Terena daily -- but the vital operation he was due to undergo in Tallaght Hospital this year was cancelled.

Mr Kiely and his team, who will operate for free on Jason, said the surgery would go ahead because the anonymous donation would allow them to pay for the theatre and staff in the Blackrock Clinic.

The implant, worth around €15,000 to €20,000, was donated by an Irish-owned company.

However, Dr Kiely said he had nine other implants that could also be used to operate on children who are desperately in need of surgery.

The doctors would operate at no fee, he said, but they needed funding to cover the significant costs of the use of a theatre, staff, intensive care after the surgery, nutritional support given through a drip, X-rays and spinal cord monitoring.

He has written to Health Minister James Reilly asking for a plan to be drawn up and has made several appeals to the HSE.

"Tallaght Hospital has to stop doing spinal deformity operations this year because of lack of funding," he said.

The surgery is continuing in Crumlin but there are not enough operations carried out to keep up with the demand.

"To find I can only do one or two a week when I need to do three or four a week is frustrating. Waiting times were cut in the last two years as the same company gave €1m worth of implants for free.

"We could do more on a charity basis but need a suitable hospital. Crumlin Hospital has gone from 20-25 operations a year to 55 last year. But it is still not enough."

Mr Kiely said he had received an acknowledgement from the minister about the plight of the children.

"If we had the funding to run operating theatres and were able to start earlier and operate later in the evening we could do another nine or 10 patients."

He is now looking at starting a charity called Straight Ahead, where people would donate funds to pay for theatres.

"It is very uplifting to see so many people pulling together for Jason.

"It is necessary to develop a strategy to deal not just with the surgical needs of children but also adults who are waiting two to three years."

A spokesman for the minister was unable to respond to the proposals last night.

Irish Independent