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

Health Minister Simon Harris says the hew HSE action plan will review if the screening programme can be re-introduced.

Child being checked for scoliosis.
Child being checked for scoliosis.
Image: Shutterstock/luckyraccoon

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris says the new HSE action plan on scoliosis is to review whether it is feasible to re-introduce the scoliosis screening programme.

The screening programme was disbanded in 2008, which Gary Farrell, founder of support group Scoliosis Ireland, says was due to government austerity cuts.

In a bid for early intervention, public nurses came to schools throughout the country to carry out what is known as the Adam’s forward bend test.

Where a prominence in the back was detected, the child would be sent for further diagnosis tests.

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, there have been calls for screening campaign to be re-introduced.

Calls for screenings to be returned to schools

Sinn Féin’s John Brady told the Dáil of his own personal, family experience with scoliosis.

“As is too often the case, my daughter’s problem was not identified early enough, until she was 16.  At that stage, a back brace was not an option because her growth was coming to an end.

“When I was a child, the public health nurses who went into every school in the State, as they still do to carry out vaccinations, also checked for scoliosis. That no longer happens even though it is a simple procedure which takes less than two minutes,” he said.

The Wicklow TD said early identification of scoliosis would alleviate the suffering children are having to endure and, in some cases, prevent the need for surgery later on.

He asked the minister if screening would be rolled out across the State.

We do not need an action plan or to wait until the end of the month.  It can be done in the morning.

Scoliosis Awareness and Support Ireland has submitted a proposed trial plan to the minister.

The group said that “early detection of scoliosis is vital” as is “early and timely intervention”.

“We hope the trial can be introduced and reform started of scoliosis services for children.”

Minister says merit in re-introduction

The minister said that the issue of school screening has been raised with him by a number of the advocacy groups.

It is one of the issues that I have asked be considered by the health service in the context of the action plan… It seems a logical suggestion, but I believe it was changed on clinical grounds.
It sounds like there is merit in it. It is being considered in the context of the action plan. I will engage with the advocacy groups on that too.

Why was it scrapped in the first place?

When asked by TheJournal.ie why the screening programme was discontinued, the Department of Health said:

In 2011,the UK National Screening Committee commissioned a full and systematic assessment of the international evidence base for scoliosis screening based on international evidence. The review concluded that screening for scoliosis was not recommended.
There have been no significant additions to the evidence base since this comprehensive assessment which drew on studies from many countries. The Irish epidemiology of scoliosis is not known to differ significantly from that in other countries and therefore this finding is also relevant for the Irish population.
Any new evidence which becomes available will be assessed, and an appropriate decision will be taken on this issue.

The department went on to say the introduction of any screening campaign would have to be very carefully considered, with the positive and negative impact of screening programmes evaluated.

The minister committed that the HSE action plan on scoliosis would be completed by the end of this month.

Read: ‘I see my daughter crying in pain, her body bending over. We can’t wait two years’>

Read: Simon Harris ‘pleased to announce’ Crumlin Hospital scoliosis theatre to open in April>

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