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HSE cuts child development checks in west Dublin due to 'staff shortages'

Parents have been contacted this week with the news.

THE HSE HAS withdrawn crucial checks for some children in west Dublin due to a staffing shortage.

It has contacted parents and guardians to say that it “cannot deliver” development assessments for children aged between three months and four years old.

In a letter sent out this week, seen by The Journal, the Executive said this was because of “staff shortages” so its department in Dublin West would be shifting to a “prioritisation system” to deliver other services.

The examinations are considered crucial checks and can spot underlying problems as an infant grows and its brain and body develop.

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the HSE said a shortage of public health nurses was impacting the delivery of services, and that it expects the situation to improve in the coming months when four public health nurses and student nurses are allocated to the area.

hse dub west letter short The HSE letter received by parents and guardians this week

Dublin Mid-West Sinn Féin TD Mark Ward told The Journal that it amounted to a “carte blanche removal of vital services” by the HSE and that it needed to clarify when the examinations will return.

“These checks are absolutely vital and they are there to make sure that nothing gets missed. We know that early intervention is key,” he said.

“A child’s brain develops more in the first five years more than any other point in life. If they are not getting these developmental check appointments something could be missed and it will be too late to make up for it then.”

In the letter, the HSE’s Community Healthcare Organisation for Dublin West told parents: “I am writing to inform you that in response to staff shortages in the Public Health Nursing Service in Dublin West the department is moving to a prioritisation system to deliver services.”

It added that “at this time the PHN service cannot deliver” the child development assessments which are typically scheduled to take place when the infant is aged three months, nine to 11 months, 21-24 months and lastly 46-48 months.

It further mentioned that an information leaflet and a child’s development guide had been attached to assist the parent, adding a GP should be contacted if the parents have any specific concerns about their baby’s health, growth or development.

Ward said he had been contacted by one family in the area last week who had found they could no longer access development checks for their child.

He asked parliamentary questions of the health minister to find out why but believes the answer lies in this week’s letter.

“We know that the health service is finding it difficult to retain staff and it looks like this is what has happened here, with the child development assessments now considered not a priority,” he said.

There should be forward planning for this if staff are departing and it is absolutely disgraceful that this has been put on families.

“The minister needs to do is do a root and branch investigation to find out why this has happened in this particular area, and put measures in place to make sure that the families in west Dublin get the services they need. And right now, they can’t wait.”

A HSE spokesperson told The Journal: “There are staff shortages in the Public Health Nursing (PHN) Service across CHO7 Dublin South, Kildare & West Wicklow (DSKWW). This is having an effect on staffing levels for the Dublin West Area, which has seen a significant reduction in staff, which is having an impact on delivering routine, non-priority developmental screening assessments.

“The Dublin West team have implemented a system which enables them to prioritise the screening services and address those needs while the staffing issue is being addressed.

“The Public Health Nursing Sponsorship Programme is currently the only route for recruitment into Public Health Nursing, There will be four newly qualified Public Health Nurses that are due to start from mid to late July. Staff retirement and transfers to different or outside roles have reduced the number of PHNs in the area.

“The HSE will continue to use transfer panels and recruit for Public Health Nurses across the area. The situation is expected to improve in coming months when student PHNs are allocated to the area.”

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