One fifth of babies still not getting health check on time
NEARLY one in five infants are still not getting the free health checks they are entitled to before they reach 10 months because of a shortage of key staff.
And babies in western counties are even worse off, with almost 40pc not undergoing the tests which could detect problems in their development at an early stage.
The checks, which can pick up hearing, eyesight or mobility problems early on, should be carried out by public health staff, including nurses or doctors, in HSE clinics before the child is 10 months old.
However, the moratorium on recruitment has meant that staff who retire, resign or are on leave are not being replaced at a time when over 74,000 babies are born here annually.
The latest figures revealed that nationally just 81.7pc of babies who were 10 months old received their screening at 7-8 months.
In the west the figure is as low as 60.9pc, while in the HSE Dublin and mid-Leinster region it is 83.5pc. The HSE South has managed to see 85.8pc, while it is as high as 90.9pc in the northeast and north Dublin.
The situation has improved on last year when only one in two children nationally were being screened on time.
The screening includes checking eyes for signs of a squint, a noise test to find out if there are any hearing problems and an examination to see if dysplasia of the hip is present, a condition which could lead to a permanent limp if untreated.
Questioned on why babies in the west were not being seen on time, a HSE spokeswoman said that child developmental assessments, in addition to other duties, were carried out by community-based doctors known as 'area medical officers'.
"We have lost several such posts in HSE West over the last number of years, and have been unable to replace them. This has led to delays in developmental assessments," she said.
"We are continuing to address the delay in providing the developmental check in a number of ways, including reorganising the staff who carry out these checks, reorganising where these clinics are held, how attendance at clinics is managed, and how children are called to appointments."
Dr Alf Nicholson, a paediatrician in Temple Street hospital, Dublin, said if parents have a particular concern they should go to a GP who could refer the baby to a specialist clinic.
"They will be going to their GP for a variety of vaccinations. There is no reason why, in addition to the vaccination, the baby might have a developmental check as well. However, it is not ideal and every baby should be getting the screening on time."
He added that there are variable waiting lists in hospital clinics as well as lengthy waiting lists for ear, nose and throat clinics -- but if the GP informs the specialist of an urgent concern they can be seen quickly.
All the children are ultimately examined but the waiting time varies depending on the region. However they are all seen within a year.