Spinal surgery failings: ‘Sad little faces’ of TDs are no good to children, says group

Parents are terrified and angry with ‘drip feed’ of communication from Children’s Health Ireland, says spina bifida advocacy organisation

TDs’ “sad little faces” are “no good to children” at the centre of a controversy over spinal surgeries in the State, a spina bifida advocacy group said on Wednesday.

A review of all paediatric orthopaedics in the State has been ordered following safety concerns arising from the work of a consultant in Temple Street hospital.

The review will also examine the way the spinal surgery service has been run and the long delays experienced by children needing orthopaedic operations, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has indicated.

Speaking on Wednesday following the announcement of the review, Una Keightley, co-leader of the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Paediatric Advocacy group, said TDs will be in the Dáil today talking about the Temple Street review.


“They will all be there with their sad little faces and the shoulders dropping, but that’s no good to the children,” she told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

Parents were terrified and very angry with the “drip feed” of communication from Children’s Health Ireland over the last few days, she said, adding they still did not have a “clear story” and there appeared to have been a “mismatch of information”.

Parents had not been consulted during the last external review, she said despite their “lived experience” as carers and advocates for their children,” Ms Keightley said.

“The devil’s in the details – listen to us when we’re telling you who needs to be included in this review and what needs to be in the review, Listen to us, the national clinical guidelines state that the patient voice should be front and centre. The last external report did not interview one parent, not one.

“How can we be expected to put our signature on a dotted line for consent to hand over our children if we have no idea what is going on? Every stone needs to be overturned in this. People deserve answers. Parents deserve answers.”

Ms Keightley said parents already had enough hats to wear. “We’re parents, we’re carers, we shouldn’t have to be advocates.”

Many of the children awaiting surgery were in “a dire state”; they were in pain, they did not fit their wheelchairs, they could not sit in car seats, she said. “You cannot fathom how difficult this is for parents trying to navigate this, while at the same time trying to protect their child.”

When asked about the possibility of children being sent abroad for surgery, she said it was difficult for children with such complex needs to travel. They had to bring medication and battery packs if they are on a ventilator, she said, adding this would be fine if medical support was given for travel on their return

“It is an option that we’re willing to discuss, but we’re not going to be sent abroad to outsource your problem and then arrive back in Dublin Airport with broken wheelchairs that don’t fit our children and just being left. Okay, surgery’s done, off you go home and best of luck.”

Long waiting lists to treat scoliosis and other orthopaedic conditions in children have been a source of embarrassment to successive governments, and have remained high despite substantial investment.

There are currently 54 children waiting for spinal surgery at Temple Street, but a total of 261 children on lists across three Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) sites – Temple Street, Crumlin and Cappagh hospital.

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times