HUNDREDS of children waiting for hospital operations have suffered cancellations in the past two years as a shortage of beds and specialist staff hit home.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that one in five procedures was cancelled at the National Children's Hospital since 2010 -- in some cases because no anaesthetist was available.
The country's other two children's hospitals were unable to provide similar figures despite being heavily criticised in a recent report on theatre usage.
Health Minister James Reilly last night hit out at the figures saying it was "unacceptable" that operations were cancelled, especially when the cancellation related to "poor organisation and planning".
More than 800 procedures for children at the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, were cancelled in 2010.
The latest available figures for 2011 show 640 cancellations up to November of last year. Both years saw a ratio of about one in five operations cancelled at the hospital.
Under Freedom of Information rules, the Irish Independent sought details from three children's hospitals (Tallaght, Crumlin and Temple Street) about:
• The number of procedures (both planned and emergency) cancelled in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
• The reasons as to why these procedures were cancelled and examples to be provided.
• The current waiting list at the hospital.
• The current theatre usage at the hospital.
• What changes have been implemented since the Meridian Report last year.
It was revealed that operating theatres were lying idle in the country's three largest children's hospitals while hundreds waited for operations.
The records we obtained revealed that although some cancellations at Tallaght were beyond the hospital's control, hundreds of others were cancelled for unspecified reasons or due to "unexpected delays".
Tallaght Hospital has, as yet, been unable to provide reasons as to what were the "unexpected delays" or "other reasons" which led to operations being cancelled at the last minute.
Tallaght Hospital said its current theatre usage was at 87pc -- but the other two hospitals criticised in the report failed to give up-to-date figures on how effectively their theatres are now operating.
Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin -- which hit headlines in 2009 for cancelling hundreds of heart operations -- responded: "The hospital has not found the records you requested or discovered any indication that they exist."
The hospital refused to say how many procedures it cancelled last year. This is despite latest figures which reveal more than 14,000 children were waiting for first-time appointments across a range of specialities at the hospital in 2011.
Crumlin insisted it had "a process in place to track and follow up on all patients whose initial date for surgery was deferred". However, it said it did not have the resources to pull the figures together, when asked by the Irish Independent.
Temple Street Children's Hospital also refused, saying gathering the data would be an "onerous task" and that the hospital's theatre management system was "outdated and incapable of providing accurate information".
Dr Reilly said he would regard it as "unacceptable" if any hospital did not keep "adequate information on their files related to patients or activity levels".
Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients' Association said he believed many of the cancellations were directly related to cutbacks, where hospital capacity was not available for the patient to have their procedure on the day in question.
"The real issue is to understand the causes of these cancellations. If there are logistical problems then that reflects on management. The worry is with budgetary cuts coming down the line this situation is likely to worsen significantly," he said.