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Children with scoliosis on waiting lists more than 4 months given option to go abroad for surgery

A new theatre at Crumlin Hospital which deals with surgeries is only open three days a week.

Image: Shutterstock/YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV

CHILDREN WITH SCOLIOSIS will be given the offer of treatment abroad if they are on a hospital waiting list for more than four to six months.

Following the public’s outrage at the RTÉ investigates Living on the List programme, which documented the struggle thousands of patients face on hospital waiting lists, Health Minister Simon Harris put in place an action plan.

However, hundreds of children are still waiting longer than four months for surgery, despite commitments from the previous Taoiseach Enda Kenny that this would not be the case.

Waiting lists

The number of children waiting for more than four months has increased from 124 to 145 and for some of those it is much longer than four months, Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin told the Dáil yesterday, adding:

I am dealing with a case of a young boy aged 15 years who has been diagnosed as needing urgent surgery. In August 2016, he was put on the surgical waiting list. The surgeon is saying it is urgent. He has complications caused by other conditions such as spina bifida. He is in a wheelchair.
I have spoken to his mother, who emailed me this morning saying that humanity, empathy and compassion need to be taken into account when dealing with her son’s case. She is at her wit’s end.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the issue was something that was “close to his heart” adding that the long waiting lists for those with scoliosis has been an issue for “as long as I can remember”.

Treatment abroad

He said the four-month target was set by the director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

“I will certainly be calling on the HSE to deliver on that target,” he said, adding that the government plans to offer treatment abroad for those on the waiting list for more than four to six months.

“Of course we understand that some parents will – for totally legitimate reasons – prefer to have the treatment in their own country rather than going abroad, but the treatment abroad option will be there,” he said.

Many people are still waiting more than three months and more than six months which is not something we want to continue or to stand over.
It is fair to say that we are pulling out all the stops and doing everything we can to make sure that more children have the surgery they need within an acceptable time period, and if that does involve offering people treatment abroad we will fund that…

New theatre at Crumlin hospital 

He said a new theatre in Crumlin Hospital is now open and extra nurses are working in Crumlin and Temple Street, with an additional orthopaedic surgeon due to begin work in Crumlin Hospital in early October.

A total of 226 surgeries have taken place in Crumlin and Temple Street so far this year, he explained, while a total of 23 cases have been outsourced to the Mater, Cappagh and Stanmore hospitals.

The Taoiseach said the cost of the new theatre in Crumlin came in at around €2 million or €3 million, however Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly yesterday received no answer from the Taoiseach as to why the theatre is not open five days a week.

Currently, the theatre is only open three days per week.

“Emotional blackmail”

Co-founder of the Scoliosis Advocacy Network Michelle Long told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme today that if the government is serious about reducing waiting lists for scoliosis surgery, the theatre must be open for a full working week.

She said outsourcing now seemed to be the preferred method of clearing the list, stating that the option was unfair to parents and children.

“If you don’t go to Germany for example, there’s no surgery date free in Ireland and it’s emotional blackmail. Parents are really left with no choice if they’re told that if they stay in Ireland, there is no date,” she said.

Martin said the government was shamed into action by the RTÉ television programme, stating that parents believe those that get media coverage have a better chance of getting an operation.

“The government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to adopt the National Treatment Purchase Fund as a strategy to reduce waiting times. It is belated and has been too slow in implementation,” said Martin.

“The Taoiseach cannot keep passing the buck and try to detach himself and the government from the reality on the ground,” he added.

Varadkar replied, “It is not an issue of shame. All of us in Ireland and in this society should be ashamed that children have to wait such a prolonged period for operations.”

Read: ‘The damage is done, a piece of his spine will have to be removed’>

Read: We used to screen for scoliosis in schools, so why was it stopped?>

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