Almost 2,500 children waiting over a year to see specialists

Ban on recruitment in HSE blamed for delays in developmental and behavioural services

‘Thousands of children have their lives effectively on hold because of our under-resourced and under-staffed services,’ said June Tinsely of Barnados.

‘Thousands of children have their lives effectively on hold because of our under-resourced and under-staffed services,’ said June Tinsely of Barnados.

Tue, Oct 8, 2013, 01:00

Thousands of children with developmental delays and behavioural problems are waiting more than a year to see specialists, according to figures from the HSE. Almost 2,000 children who have problems with basic functions such as walking are waiting more than 52 weeks for help while more than 500 children are waiting over a year to be seen for conditions such as autism.

Children’s and disability groups blame the waiting lists on a ban on recruitment in the HSE and are urging the Government not to make any more cuts to the health budget which would put more pressure on services.

Occupational therapists

The waiting lists are more severe in some parts of the country: children in the south of the country and the Dublin south/Leinster region wait longer to see occupational therapists, who diagnose and treat children with developmental delays, Down syndrome or who have been in accidents. Out of a total of 1,961 children on waiting lists as of the end of August, more than 1,500 are in these two regions.

Children in the south and west wait longer to see psychologists, who diagnose and treat intellectual disabilities such as autism. At the end of last August, out of a total of 504 children in the State waiting over a year to see mental-health specialists, 444 are living in the south and west.

The HSE said it did not keep statistics for the number of children on waiting lists to see speech and language therapists. But waiting lists are thought to be significant, with staff at a Barnardos centre in Dublin saying local children with speech or language difficulties can wait up to two years to be seen.

The HSE said it was recruiting 52.5 occupational therapists and 52 speech and language therapists who would be in place by the end of the year. “These additional posts will make significant impacts on the waiting lists currently in existence,” it added in a statement.

Long-term effects

Siobhán Kane, communications manager with Inclusion Ireland, said it was frustrating for parents to wait for such long periods and the effects on children could be long-term. “You can try intervening when someone is 15 years old but there is never the same potential for helping them than when they are two years. And you can’t go back.”

Barnardos said low-income families suffered the most on waiting lists because they were less able to pay privately to see specialists. According to the Growing Up in Ireland survey published last month, children from low-income families were less healthy and more likely to have behavioural problems.

“If a three-year-old can’t walk properly or run or jump, having to waiting a year or two for treatment is a significant proportion of their lives,” said Eilish Cullen, project worker at Barnardos in Mulhuddart, Dublin, which runs early intervention groups for young children. “If it was happening to families which can afford it these children could be seen by a specialist straightaway but these families are left waiting years,” she added.

‘Lives on hold’

June Tinsley, Barnardos policy officer, added: “Thousands of children have their lives effectively on hold because of our under-resourced and under-staffed services. This is resulting in children starting school totally unable to cope or ill-equipped to adapt because of their undiagnosed and untreated condition. The school system can’t cope as allocated resource teachers/SNAs are already over stretched.”