A crisis situation has emerged in the provision of occupational therapy for children in Dundalk with chronic staff shortages and lengthy waiting lists.
The HSE have confirmed the shocking state of disability services for children across Louth, where there are currently no occupational therapists in paediatric services.
Des O’Flynn, Chief Officer of Louth Meath CHO said there were “four vacant posts to be recruited and one maternity leave vacancy.”
Responding to a question from Dundalk TD Ruairí Ó Murchú, who raised concerns about occupational therapy appointments in the Dail, Mr. O’Flynn said that “pending the fulltime filling of these posts we have endeavoured to fill the vacant posts via agency without success. In conjunction with three other CHO’s we are progressing a recruitment competition to fill our existing senior vacancies."
He confirmed that it is likely to be “late autumn when we would expect appointments to be made and this is dependent on us being successful in attracting candidates.”
The CO added: “Regrettably we have a large volume and very lengthy waiting list i.e. currently there are 659 children on the waiting list for primary care occupational therapy paediatric assessment in Louth, with 382 waiting in excess of one year, and the average waiting time is that of circa three years.”
Deputy Ó Murchú. told the government about the impact the chronic shortages in staff in Dundalk were having on children and their families.
‘Unfortunately, in the context of all of these issues, there is always an element of Groundhog Day. That is something we need to address. We cannot continue having these same conversations."
He also highlighted some of the cases that had been brought to his attention by families.
He said: ‘I am dealing with a nine-year-old boy with global development delay, which involves mental and physical issues. His father has been told that for occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, he could be waiting another eight to 12 months for an appointment.”
‘He was initially with the early intervention team in Drogheda until he was six, and then he was moved to the children's team in Dundalk. He got access to services in October 2019.”
“‘While I accept that Covid created difficulties, he has not got any face-to-face speech and language therapy in the interim. An occupational therapist has visited since we became involved but, obviously, that is not sufficient to cut the mustard.”
The Dundalk TD said: ‘We are also dealing with a mam with an autistic four-year-old who is not toilet trained and cannot get a place in a school. There was a family intervention meeting and the mother was told that no therapies would be possible for a couple of months.
This child is not toilet trained and that is creating specific difficulties. The problem is that the child cannot get a place in a special school or in a regular school until that is resolved.
The only thing the mother is being offered is parenting programmes. Obviously, this is not fit-for-purpose.”
He added: “We must get serious about workforce planning. We know what numbers we have, but we need an assessment of how many people we need and we must find any means possible to ensure we can employ those people.
Looking down the line, we must ensure there is a throughput of people being trained. It is also about ensuring we facilitate people with work visas and whatever else is necessary. As we can see, the cost of not doing this is astronomical.”