Psychologists have described the withdrawal of public health nurse developmental checks for babies in some areas as detrimental and “hugely concerning”.
In some areas of the country, the Health Service Executive is moving towards a prioritisation approach to the developmental checks traditionally performed by public health nurses. Rather than seeing all new babies, nurses are seeing only those identified with a medical risk, or where a need has already been already identified. The move, affecting much of the Greater Dublin Area as well as Galway, is driven by staffing shortages and recruitment difficulties.
But the Psychological Society of Ireland has warned the change will lead to the late identification of development issues and delayed access to interventions.
It will also leave parents unsupported, compound the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and have significant adverse effects elsewhere in the health service, the society says.
“The absence of early detection and preventative interventions will lead to more serious difficulties being identified at a later period and, therefore, have a costly impact on baby, child, and family,” says society president Dr Vincent McDarby.
Early relationships lay the foundation for later social and emotional development, he says. “Without these visits, new parents will not have important support from the public health nurse in those early days and weeks to support their new relationship with their infant.”
Although the HSE has advised parents to seek advice from booklets on early childhood development, the society says it is “unrealistic to expect parents who may have no knowledge in this area to be able to identify delays or the need for intervention”.
More than half the children born during the pandemic missed a developmental check, and service levels have been slow to recover since.
According to HSE figures from April, 80.5 per cent of one-year-olds received a development check; about 3,500 did not. In Dublin, one in three babies did not get checked within the first year.
More than 200 public health nurse posts are vacant nationally.