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Leaders' Questions

Pledge made 7 years ago that children wouldn't wait on scoliosis surgery has been broken, Dáil hears

Doherty said there are currently more than 70 children waiting over four months for spinal surgery with several waiting for years.

GOVERNMENT HAS FAILED to deliver on a promise made in 2017 that children would wait no longer than four years for scoliosis surgery, the Dáil heard today. 

As health minister at the time, Simon Harris made the pledge seven years ago. 

Taking Leaders’ Questions today in place of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Harris was told that he had failed to deliver on that target.

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said several affected children and families attended the Dáil last week, including 10-year-old Kylie Ann Stewart.

He said the “beautiful, young and brave girl” had been failed by the State.

“Kylie Ann has been waiting five years for critical scoliosis surgery.”

Doherty said her parents were first told of her condition when she was four and the Co Donegal girl has been waiting for surgery for half of her life.

He added: “Her condition is acute, her pain is great, her parents are heartbroken”

138 degrees

The Sinn Fein TD said Kylie Ann’s back is curved at 138 degrees.

He said her parents have been told that doctors will be unable to operate if her spine curves a further 10 degrees.

Additionally, Doherty said: “Kylie Ann has had to be especially careful with the skin that covers the bones that protrude from her back – the risk is that the skin could break down, increasing the chance of infection.”

Doherty said there are currently more than 70 children waiting over four months for spinal surgery with several waiting for years.

He said: “Seven years ago, minister, you yourself gave a commitment as minister for health.

“You said that no child by the end of 2017 would be waiting longer than four months for scoliosis-related surgery.

“A promise you made, a promise you broke. Made to Kylie Ann and so many other children that was broken year after year.”

Failing children

Sinn Féin has called for an independent task force to look into the matter, as well as funding for a treatment abroad scheme.

He added: “You are drastically failing these children and it is simply not good enough, minister.”

Harris said nobody in the Dail could imagine the pain that Kylie Ann and her family are going through.

He added: “When I was minister for health, I met with many families with children awaiting scoliosis procedures.

“I remember them. I remember their names. I remember their faces. I know somewhat of what they were going through though none of us can fully imagine it.

“And as a result of that, I did decide to place an unrelenting focus in 2017 on reducing the scoliosis times.”

Harris, now Further Education Minister, said there was “very, very significant progress” on reducing waiting times because of that commitment.

He said the number of children waiting longer than four months reduced to 29 by the end of 2017.

“People worked tirelessly and we saw wait times very, very significantly reduced.”

However, Harris said that “progress was reversed” during the pandemic with the closure of theatres and reduction of health services.

The minister said the Government has committed to establishing a task force on the matter.

“This government is working night and day. There is a task force in place. There’s engagement with the advocacy groups.”

The current Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the State had failed “far too many” children in need of orthopaedic care.

He asked the HSE’s internal audit teams to examine how a €19 million allocation towards reducing waiting times in 2022 was used.

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