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Suzanne Cahill and her daughter Ava speaking to RTÉ last weekend about the long delays they have faced for surgery. RTÉ/Screengrab
Leaders' Questions

'Not an issue of funding': Urgent surgery wait lists for children unacceptable, says Taoiseach

Micheál Martin said record sums of money have been given to the HSE and to CHI.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said he plans to meet the HSE and Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) group to discuss the long waiting lists for children with spina bifida waiting for corrective surgery.

During Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald raised the case of Ava Cahill, an 11-year-old from Tallaght with spina bifida who has been waiting for more than a year and a half for corrective surgery and who was featured in a recent RTÉ report.

“As a result of this wait, Ava lives in considerable and daily pain because her feet have turned in on themselves and her condition is worsening. Her mother says that it is increasingly difficult for Ava to hold her splint in place.

“She needs this to keep her feet street. Ava says it is increasingly difficult for her to do everyday things. Her feet keep getting caught in her pants when she tries to dress herself and she does not want anyone to see her feet. Ava, like every child, simply wants to do the things that her friends do. She so badly needs this operation,” McDonald told the Taoiseach. 


However, responding, the Taoiseach said that funding has been provided to the HSE and CHI, and he urged them to get on with the surgeries. 

Figures reported by RTÉ over the weekend find that there are up to 56 children with spina bifida waiting for corrective surgery.

Due to the wait, children who once walked independently are now in wheelchairs. This is a failure of vulnerable children, she said. 

She said that for €5 million, the additional capacity necessary could be delivered to clear these lists.

“This funding request has been with the Government and Minister for Health for two years. I want to know why this money has not been allocated. It is the best €5 million the Government could spend,” she said.

Martin said that he saw the piece on RTÉ at the weekend about children waiting for surgery, but told the Dáil that additional funding has been made available to the health service and the HSE to address waiting times and waiting lists, for Crumlin, Temple Street and Cappagh.

CHI has the capacity to free up space so that complex orthopaedic procedures, including scoliosis and spinal fusion, can be carried out at CHI sites, he told McDonald. 

He said:

It is not and should not be an issue of funding. It is unacceptable that children have to wait for so long for urgent surgery.

Hospitals received instructions prior to Christmas relating to public health advice to prioritise, for public health reasons, the capacity within hospitals for Covid and issues relating to the Omicron variant and during earlier surges, said Martin.

However, for 2022, €350 million has been made available to improve waiting times – which includes €150 million for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, he said.

“Whatever immediate capacity measures can be developed should be developed, because the funding is there to do it,” he added. 

Meeting with HSE and CHI 

The Taoiseach said he has sought a meeting with Children’s Health Ireland about this, as well as with the HSE.

“Anything that can be done to reduce these waiting times for those who need urgent surgery has to and should be done. I want to get a proper assessment of waiting times for children on the list, how long individual children are waiting, and the reasons for that,” he said. 

Martin said McDonald should ask why has the Cappagh Hospital request not been facilitated? He said funding has been given to the HSE.

There was €600 million given last year for the winter initiative and 800 extra beds were provided last year, he said. 

“Funding is not an excuse any longer. Record sums of money have been given to the HSE and to CHI. They should get on with it and get it done,” he added. 

“I have told them that,” he said.

Following Leaders’ Questions today, Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane said the funding has not been released by the HSE to the hospitals.

He called on the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to urgently ensure the funding is released to provide the additional capacity “so children no longer have to wait for surgery in agony”. 

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