More than 110,000 children are on waiting lists for therapies such as physiotherapy, dietetics, speech and language therapy and disability services, according to new figures.
When added to hospital waiting lists, this means about 220,000 children are on some form of waiting list in the public health service.
Unlike hospital waiting lists, therapy waiting lists are not published regularly and attract little attention.
However, figures obtained by Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane show 93,937 children were waiting for therapy at the end of May and June, of whom 29,705 were waiting for more than 12 months. A further 17,405 children were waiting for “initial contact” with a children’s disability network team, 8,033 of them for more than 12 months.
Children on therapy lists are waiting for a diverse range of services, from treatment for psychological issues to delays in speech development. Many families who can afford it are forced to get assessment or treatment in the private sector due to the long delays in being seen through the public system.
The longest delays are in speech and language therapy, with 14,862 children on the waiting list for initial assessment, 7,151 waiting for initial therapy and 9,891 awaiting further therapy.
There are wide variations in wait times for different therapies in different parts of the country. For speech and language therapy, for example, no children in Dublin southeast, Wicklow or Sligo-Leitrim are waiting for an initial assessment. In contrast, there are more than 1,000 children on this waiting list in Cavan-Monaghan, Galway, Kildare-West Wicklow and Wexford.
According to the figures, 11,041 children are waiting to see a psychologist, and 13,163 are on the occupational therapy waiting list. There are 8,879 children on the audiology list, 16,836 waiting for ophthalmology services, 144 for podiatry and 4,175 on the children and adolescent mental health service list.
Mr Cullinane said it was “scandalous” that there were more than 17,000 children waiting for first contact with disability services.
Children’s health services were “overwhelmed and understaffed”, with more than 400,000 therapy hours lost due to vacancies, he said.
According to the latest National Treatment Purchase Fund figures, 94,871 children were on inpatient and outpatient hospital waiting lists in July. Another 13,000 are on other hospital waiting lists or waiting for scans. The new data on waiting lists for children’s therapies means that about 1.4 million adults and children are on some form of waiting list for health services.