We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Families and their children protesting outside the Dáil yesterday. RTÉ screenshot
Spina Bifida

Taoiseach accused of 'callous broken promises' over spinal surgery delays for children

Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil that he has ordered a HSE audit of how Children’s Health Ireland has spent money given to it in 2022.


TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he does not have adequate answers as to why spinal services have not improved in this country. 

Responding to Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald during Leaders’ Questions, who said it is a scandal that children are still waiting in pain for their surgeries, the Taoiseach said the failures go back years. 

In 2017, the then health minister Simon Harris made a commitment during a committee hearing that no child would wait more than four months for spinal surgery in the country.

He said it is not the lack of funding or the lack of political will to get the issues resolved. 

McDonald said today: “Of all of the broken promises by your Government, I think it’s one of the most callous.”

She raised the example of 10-year-old Kylie Ann from Donegal who she said had been waiting for life-changing surgery for five years.

“Kylie-Ann’s mother has challenged all of us in here to see her as she sees her: With love.

“To give her the chance and the quality of life that she deserves – and I think we should meet that challenge.”

Audit of €19m spend

The Taoiseach’s comments come after a debate on the issue in the Dáil last night, whereby Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed he has ordered a HSE audit of how Children’s Health Ireland has used €19 million that was allocated to it for spinal services in 2019.

Donnelly told the Dáil that at the time, this money was provided to bring the waiting lists down from four months to zero for children in need of spinal surgeries.

“As we all know, that hasn’t happened,” Donnelly said.

A spokesperson for the minister told The Journal that the audit aims to determine if the dedicated funding was spent on the areas it was intended for. There is currently no timeline for the completion of the audit. 

Today the Dáil will vote on a Sinn Féín motion that recognises that waiting lists for children waiting on spinal surgery are “too long”. 

McDonald said today that it was not acceptable that the minister did not know where the money has been spent or why it has not been used to solve the problems. Varadkar denied this is the case, stating that there has been huge investment in new services. 

Today, the Taoiseach said he would be happy to meet with the groups, stating he has done in the past. 

The waiting lists have been described as a “national scandal” by People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, who earlier this year repeatedly raised issues relating to children’s spinal surgeries in Temple Street in the Dáil. 

The motion calls on the Government to set up an independent taskforce to address the waiting lists for children with scoliosis and spina bifida. The Sinn Féin motion called for parents and clinicians to be included in the reporting process of the taskforce. 

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane told the Dáil last night during a debate on the issue last night that one of the core demands of the parents of children on waiting lists is that the proposed task force be set up independent of Children’s Health Ireland. 

In response, the Government has put down a counter-motion which recognises that current waiting lists are too long but does not commit to setting up a taskforce in line with Sinn Féin’s demands.

The Government’s motion notes that 288 children are currently waiting for surgery. However Sinn Féin say 327 children are waiting on a scoliosis-related procedure, a point that was referenced by the Taoiseach in the Dáil today. 

Sinn Féin said this discrepancy is because the Government figure does not include children who are “suspended” from the lists – e.g. a child may be near the top of the list but are unwell or unfit for surgery).

TDs will vote tomorrow on whether to accept or reject the Government motion. 

Speaking during the debate yesterday, Donnelly acknowledged that the state had “failed far too many of these children”. 

“What is happening is inhumane,” he said. 

Stephen Donnelly Stephen Donnelly speaking in the Dáil last night.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Journal before Christmas, the minister said “no one can stand over what has happened these children”. 

Donnelly said at the time that he still has not been given a “satisfactory answer” as to why waiting lists have not come down. 

Some of the impacted children and their families protested outside of Leinster House this evening ahead of the debate and watched on from the Dáil gallery as the motion was discussed. 

Social Democrats TD Roísín Shortall told the Dáil during the debate that the Government is “incapable” of getting to grips with this issue.

“The longer these children wait, the more their spines curve; the more their organs are crushed; the more their chances of survival diminish,” she said.

Shortall added: “There’s a lot of money available in this country and if this is not a top priority, I don’t know what is.” 

Additional reporting Christina Finn

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel